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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Osborn Hill Marks St. Baldrick’s, Remembers Teddy Gerber

Osborn Hill Marks St. Baldrick’s, Remembers Teddy Gerber:
Over $60,000 pledged to fight pediatric cancer
(Posted to 3/12)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Tears, smiles, baked goods and flying hair. These were some of the elements of an extraordinary community event that paid tribute to a courageous nine-year-old early Friday night.

Osborn Hill Elementary School at 760 Stillson Road and its resident Cub Scouts Pack 199 hosted its fifth annual version of St. Baldrick’s Day, a head-shaving event to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. This year, the event paid tribute to Terry Gerber, an Osborn Hill third grader who lost his battle with cancer August 16, 2010.

“St. Baldrick’s was established on St. Patrick’s Day in 2000 by three reinsurance guys on a dare,” said Tracey Smith, a Cub Scout mom and co-chair of the event. “Basically, one guy said to attendees of a work party that if they made a donation to a cancer charity, he’d shave his head. It turned into an annual movement that has grown by leaps and bounds. With the exception of the U.S. government, St. Baldrick’s funds pediatric cancer research. Our scouts were inspired by Team Brent, the local arm of the movement.”

Gerber was diagnosed in Nov. 2009 with undifferentiated sarcoma. He went through several rounds of chemotherapy, had two major operations including open heart surgery and underwent six weeks of advanced radiation in Boston. In March 2010, Gerber, hairless from chemo, was on a break from treatments when the school happened to be holding its annual St. Baldrick’s event.

“To honor him, we added raffle baskets, games, food and more to the usual head-shaving ceremonies to encompass the whole school,” she said. “And all his friends shaved their heads to match Gerber’s and they went to the movies together after the event. It raised Teddy’s self-esteem and made him feel like he wasn’t alone,” she said. “When his cancer came back, a lot of the kids re-shaved their heads as a show of solidarity.”

Smith said this year’s event was really to honor and remember Teddy and continue the fight to conquer pediatric cancer. “It’s an easy, fun way to raise money for a good cause. Kids at this age don’t care about their hair,” she said.

All registrants were asked to raise funds from family and neighbors Smith said, and, as of the event start, over $60,000 had been pledged. Last year, the school raised $87,000 from the event and an additional $22,000 after Teddy passed and, in lieu of flowers, his family asked people to make contributions.

Smith said it was difficult to be at this year’s event because of the memories of Teddy that linger in the event space, the school’s cafeteria. “We thought we had a happy ending, but didn’t, yet all of us here remain hopeful of a cure being found.”

Sharon Sacci, fellow co-chair of the event, was simply impressed with supporters’ generosity. “When you hold a fundraiser like this, you have doubts about the support you’ll receive, and then you get this outpouring and it restores your faith in people. I’ve never experience such a sense of community,” Sacci said.

Teddy’s mom, Jessica, echoed Sacci’s sentiments. “At last year’s event, Teddy was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and took it off as everyone else was bald. It was a great comfort for him to not stick out like a sore thumb. This effort isn’t just about shaving your head. You can just come out and support, buy a raffle ticket. It should be a good, happy event that enhances our sense of community. And maybe the money we raise today will fund a grant that helps a researcher discover a cure for cancer.”

Bill Gerber, Teddy’s father, added, “If it wasn’t for the support of the community, we would have just collapsed. They kept us standing tall. They helped fill us back up after a lot of our joy had been sucked away. Fairfield is a wonderful place.”

As a fife and drum quartet marched into the packed cafeteria space and played a number, Bill took the stage to address the crowd. “I have three things to say,” he announced. “Number one is, you guys are awesome. We’ve raised about $60,000 so far. Number two, do you know why we shave our heads? You’re making a statement that you don’t care about your hair. Number three is a question. Who do you think will get the grant? Someone really smart who started studying in elementary school. You never know, someday you may be applying for a St. Baldrick’s grant and helping cure cancer.”

With that, Gerber hopped off a riser, sat down in a chair and let a hairstylist run a trimmer through his brown locks, commencing the head-shaving festivities. As the hair dropped to his shoulders and his 14-year-old son John, who also went under the buzzer, came and stood by his side, Gerber just beamed.

Supporters Brave Rain for Project Return's Birdhouse Stroll

Supporters Brave Rain for Project Return’s Birdhouse Stroll
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – The rain came down in buckets but didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of folks that splashed out to take part in a downtown tradition.

Early Thursday evening March 10, scores of area residents, artists and associated staff turned out to participate in the ninth annual Birdhouse Stroll. Forty-seven downtown stores collaboratively displayed in their front windows original birdhouses created by nearly 150 artists. The birdhouses will be part of the 16th annual Birdhouse Auction, a key fundraiser for Westport-based Project Return, to be held April 1 from 7-10 p.m. at the Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.

Lux, Bond & Green at 136 Main Street was one of the host sites where many took shelter from the elements to enjoy hors d’ouevres and wine. On hand there was Laura Bard, Project Return’s director of development. She explained the correlation between birdhouses and the organization.

“A birdhouse is a safe haven for a bird like Project Return is a safe haven for adolescent and young women in crisis,” said Bard. “We like to say when they’ve been nurtured, cared for and healed, then they’re ready to fly away and begin the next phase of their lives.”

Project Return was founded in 1986 by a group of citizens in Westport who felt that there was a need for this type of home. Over its 25 years, the program has served 134 girls through the safe house, according to Bard.

“Seven teens live in the house at any given time and their stay can be anywhere from a few months to four or five years, depending on the circumstances,” said Bard. “Most girls are referred to us by the Connecticut Dept. of Children and Families (DCF) because of abuse and neglect. They come in with a variety of symptoms including anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse. Their parents are no longer able to care for them for one reason or another and some have been in other residential facilities or foster homes, or even hospitals.”

A majority of Project Return’s funding comes from the DCF, said Bard, while the balance is raised by events like the upcoming auction, an annual effort with Lillian August and parties in private homes. Community support is also provided in the form of pro bono therapy, donated medical and dental services and mentors. Besides the safe house, other Project Return programs include aftercare and transitional living support and an afterschool program for troubled teens living in Fairfield County communities called “Heal.”

Kathy Tessler is a mentor with the program who jumped on board as a volunteer four years ago. “I was placed with one girl who’s now 18. There have been lots of ups and down but overall it has been a wonderful experience to get to know someone with a troubled past. She’s really evolved into a lovely, accomplished young girl.”

Westport artist Nina Bentley has donated a birdhouse to the auction every year for the past 15. This year, she decided to do something unique and let people name her birdhouse creation. Out of 150 suggestions, she chose “Midas Well Live in Westport“ which aligned well with the gold charms all over the house. About the overall effort, Bentley said, “This is a wonderful opportunity for artists to give back to the community.”

Providing a live testimonial about Project Return’s good work was former safe house resident Naomi Kydes. “I lived at the home for two years,” she said. “The support I received was tremendous both during the time I was there and since. Ironically, I’m now a board member. The senior coordinators are my extended family – my group moms if you will. They’ve been to my wedding, visited me in the hospital after I had my first child… real family connections.”

Taking a soggy stroll window-to-window was Alison Danzberger and husband Don Stump, admiring all the creative birdhouses, which had been placed into store environments in which they were best suited. For example, artist Wendy Nylen’s “Birdazzled” birdhouse was created from a gourd made to look jewel-like, so was placed at Lux, Bond and Green.

Said Danzberger, as she and Stump studied a birdhouse by Miggs Burroughs at Max’s Art Supplies, “Everyone has worked very hard to support the cause. These are really intricate and there’s an incredible amount of time put into each of them. We’re glad to brave a little rain to see all the wonderful work.”