Aroostook County's 7th annual Planet Head Day will take place on Saturday, Feb. 15, during the 83rd "birthday" of the discovery of Pluto. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the University of Maine at Presque Isle's Wieden Gymnasium. This unique event celebrates space science while also serving as a fundraiser for C-A-N-C-E-R [Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery]. To do this, participants raise money to have their heads shaved and painted as planets, dwarf planets and moons.
The event got its start in 2007, when the staff of UMPI's Northern Maine Museum of Science was looking for a way to celebrate the museum's participation in the educational outreach for the NEW HORIZONS program, which launched a spacecraft scheduled to arrive at Pluto in 2015. At that time, the museum's Coordinator for Educational Outreach, Jeanie McGowan, was recovering from cancer chemotherapy. The staff decided that an event to improve both science education and cancer awareness was in order, and Planet Head Day was born.
To celebrate Planet Head Day, people from throughout northern Maine and nearby Canada gather at UMPI for an afternoon of food, fun and science and cancer education. Four barber chairs are available for those who have their heads shaved, while others opt for "bald" caps prior to painting. Recent Planet Head Days have had about 65 heads, with half of these being shaved. Planet heads have included community leaders, teachers, pastors, parents, and faculty and students from the university. About a third of the participants, including some of the shaved heads, have been children.
Planet Head Day is now the most important fundraising event for C-A-N-C-E-R. Money raised goes to support area community members diagnosed with cancer. Those undergoing cancer treatment receive monthly Bread of Life bags with homemade bread and baked items.
"Our services are many and are custom designed to fit the needs of each patient," Louise Calabrese, C-A-N-C-E-R chairwoman, said. "If assistance is needed to pay for prescriptions, oil, electricity, food and anything else not covered by insurance, we help until other funding sources are found. Funds may also be used for travel and overnight accommodations for medical visits downstate."
The Bread of Life baked items are made by volunteers on the third Monday of every month, and are faithfully delivered the following day no matter the weather. Those who need assistance or wish to volunteer should visit the group's website at www.c-a-n-c-e-r.com or call Sue Nickerson at 207-764-6826.
This will be Planet Head Day's sixth annual event. Each of the previous events has at least doubled the C-A-N-C-E-R funds raised over the previous year. Last year's event raised more than $15,000, and the ambitious goal this year is to double that amount.
"We are looking for people who want to use their heads for some serious fundraising," Kevin McCartney, Director of the Northern Maine Museum of Science and event coordinator, said.
Last year, local residents Brian Hamel and Father Jean-Paul Labrie used their heads to raise more than $10,000 for C-A-N-C-E-R and it is hoped that this will be an inspiration to others.
Volunteer Planet Head painters will paint each participant's shaved or capped head as the planet, dwarf planet or moon of their choice. Parents have the opportunity if they wish to paint the heads of their children – or the heads of parents or friends. Lynwood Winslow of Presque Isle volunteers his laptop, camera, and printing technology to photograph each Planet Head and produce a Planet Head certificate to take home. For more information about participating in the event, contact Kevin McCartney at 207-768-9482 or Jeanie McGowan at 207-768-9747. Anyone wishing to help paint planets should contact McGowan.
Planet Head Day, which this year falls on Pluto's birthday, will be held in UMPI's Wieden Gymnasium from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be an assortment of space and cancer-based displays and programs at the event, along with the usual barber chairs and hullaballoo. Free pizza is provided by the Caribou and Presque Isle Pizza Huts. This year there will be two barbers from Parsons Street Barber Shop and two hair stylists from Great Beginnings Hair Boutique.
Money for the paints and theatrical "bald" caps are provided by a grant from NASA. Videos of past Planet Head Days, provided by Frank Grant of Grant Visuals, can be seen on youtube.com. For those who cannot attend the festivities, donations can be sent directly to the group at C-A-N-C-E-R, P.O. Box 811, Presque Isle, ME 04769, or call Louise Calabrese at 207-764-0766.