NORWICH — In 2018, a group of students at Gilbertsville-Mount Upton School learned their favorite bus driver, Bruce Zimmer, had shaved his head for the annual St. Baldrick's fundraiser. In 2020, the kids decided to support Bruce and children with cancer by joining Team Bruce to raise money and, for many of them, shave their heads.
Lee Mangiamele, parent of a Team Bruce member, said the kids first learned of Zimmer's participation in St. Baldrick's after he playfully tricked them into thinking they'd be getting a new bus driver.
"My story with Bruce and St. Baldrick's started in 2018, when my children got off the school bus so sad on a Friday. When I asked what was wrong they said that their bus driver, Bruce, had told them that on Monday they were going to have a new bus driver," she explained. "They moped around all weekend and several parents, not just myself, had to drag the kids out of bed and force them onto the bus Monday morning."
"I will never in my life forget that weekend. I didn't realize until then how much my kids cared about their driver. To them, he is the best part of their day," she continued. "Lucky for all of us, the kids called me at work ecstatic that afternoon, telling me that they still have Bruce, he played a trick on them all and shaved his head and beard to raise money for childhood cancer. That is how it all started for us at GMU. Each year it continues to grow."
The kids were inspired by what he did and decided they were going to join him. In 2020, Team Bruce was made up of Zimmer and three children, and together they raised $6,800 toward children's cancer research. By the following year, the team had grown to six children, and raised $4,395. This year, Team Bruce has seven kids participating.
"I wanted to do it to help save a kid's life," said Bryce, age 8.
Henry, age 9, said, "I do it to help others in need."
"I am shaving my head to show support for children with cancer and to help raise money," said Dylan, age 9. "Hopefully to find a cure for childhood cancers."
Ten year old Lily explained, "I shave my head to raise awareness of childhood cancer. When I help others, it makes me feel good inside."
"I joined Team Bruce because I want to raise a lot of money to help not one, but many kids get better!" said Cooper, age 10.
Caden, age 11, said, "I do it to show the kids that they're not alone. We all fight together!"
"I raise money to help kids that have cancer, because cancer sucks," said Kaden, age 11. "I do it for Bruce, because it means a lot to Bruce and Bruce means a lot to me."
Team Captain Bruce Zimmer explained, "I participate in the St. Baldrick's event to honor my young friend Cassie, who lost her battle with cancer at age 8 in 1999, as well as my friend Kelsey who lost her battle at age 11 in 2005. Those two young girls taught me the impact that children can have on one's life. The kids that join me are amazing individuals that are sharing the gift of unselfish giving. Next year, I would like to get a dozen amazing kids to join us!"
Anyone can donate to Team Bruce, or to a specific child that's on the team. All the money raised will count toward the team's overall goal of $5,000. For those that would like to join Team Bruce or donate to the team, visit their website at www.stbaldricks.org/teams/mypage/132244/2022 to sign up.
"Anybody can sign up for a team, you just get right on their website and do it. You can do it as an individual or you can do it as a team," said Mangiamele. "We have a team one, and then underneath the team is each individual, and then each individual gets donations. Or they can just donate strictly to the team itself."
She also explained that there are also varying degrees of participation. For those who are apprehensive about shaving their heads, Mangiamele said not to worry; Shaving off your hair is not a requirement.
"You can be different levels of it. Like you can be a shavee, which are the kids that shave their heads. My daughter will not shave her head, but she’s a participant. So she does everything except for shaving her head. She fundraises, she gets the donations, she does the event. Actually, she’s usually the one that shaves Bruce's head because she won’t shave her own," she said. "I think a lot of girls don’t get involved in it because they don’t want to shave their head. But they can still be involved in it and be a participant and still raise the money, just not be a shavee."
Since the children on Team Bruce began participating during the pandemic, Mangiamele said they have only been able to participate virtually. She hopes that by spreading the word about their selfless efforts, it will raise awareness of what they do and inspire more children to get involved.
"The first year that they did it was March 2020, when they were shaving their heads, and it was their first year, and then the event got shut down. Like literally the week before, because that’s when COVID hit our area. So the kids have never actually been recognized," she said. "School shut down too. So they didn’t even go to school afterwards to show all of their classmates like, 'hey look I shaved my head!'"
"It kind of inspires more kids. I mean, St. Baldrick's is right in Norwich, look at all the schools around the area that maybe if the other schools see it it would be something that they can do," she added. "Wouldn’t it be fun if more schools got involved? Our hope is by sharing this story we will inspire more kids and schools to get involved."
Interested in joining the inspiring members of Team Bruce in their fight against children's cancer? Join the team or donate to the cause at www.stbaldricks.org/teams/mypage/132244/2022.