NORWICH — 11-year-old Gwendalyn Roberts was one of St. Baldrick’s youngest shavee participants at the Norwich St. Baldrick’s fundraiser for childhood cancer research.
She was recognized for raising the most money for the event and received a medal and a tiara. Her goal was initially $1,000, but with the support of family, friends, her mom’s co-workers, and Facebook, she raised $3,395.38.
The 2023 Norwich St. Baldrick’s fundraiser event was Saturday, March 18 at the American Legion Post 189 in Norwich. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation solicits donations each year to fund their research into childhood cancer. Donations raised at fundraisers like the Norwich St. Baldrick’s event have funded more than $305 million, making the St. Baldrick’s Foundation the largest private donor of childhood cancer research grants.
Gwendalyn’s mom Jennifer Roberts said it wasn’t a surprise to her when "Gwenny" made the decision to shave her head. Her inspiration came from her dad, Sergeant Matt Roberts of the Norwich Police Department, when he shaved his head last year for the St. Baldrick’s event. Gwenny said, “It's just hair, it will grow back.”
“Gwenny has a huge heart and has always made sure everyone around her feels loved and cared for. At 11 years old, she has become a selfless, caring, and compassionate young lady. She would do anything for anyone, even strangers, to make them feel loved and included. It bothers her when someone is hurting or not happy,” Jennifer added.
One school morning, Gwendalyn and her mom were doing her hair and came up with the idea to style Gwenny's hair differently every single day. They posted the photos to Jennifer's Facebook page. Since her long hair would soon be gone after the shave, they knew their opportunities to create different hairstyles would come to a temporary end. Mom and daughter used it as a countdown for the shave day and a way to get the word out about Gwenny raising money.
The Facebook page was a huge hit with people watching every day to see a new hairdo post. Her family, friends, and kids at school were very interested. A total of 46 hairstyles were created, including themes from Dr. Seuss and St. Patrick's Day, to beards and buns.
“One of her teachers recently made her a hat, and we've collected some scarves and hats she can use to keep her head warm after the big shave,” Jennifer said.
While raising money, Gwenny heard several personal stories from friends and donors that continued to inspire her determination to raise as much money as possible for the cause.
Jennifer explained they researched different organizations and picked Children With Hair Loss (CWHL) because they were the most flexible in accepting hair that had been treated, dyed, or highlighted. They also provide wigs free of charge to children suffering hair loss due to medical conditions. Not all organizations provide wigs at no cost.
“The day of the shave, Gwenny said she wasn’t nervous at all until that first braid was cut off, and that’s when she thought to herself, ‘OMG, what am I doing,' but she wouldn’t have ever turned back,” Jennifer added.
Master of Ceremonies Josh Burchill said, “Last I checked she was our highest fundraiser. Gwenny Roberts, at age 11, first time braving the shave. Not only has she raised money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, but this experience has given her the opportunity to donate her hair to Children With Hair Loss. CWHL is an organization that provides human hair replacement at no cost to children and young adults facing medically-relate hair loss. Shaving her head is her dad Matt.”
“Alright, so explain to me why you wanted to shave your head,” Burchill asked.
Gwendalyn said, “I saw everyone doing it last year and just figured it’s for a good cause and I should probably do it too.”
“Gwenny is already talking about getting her head shaved again next year. We'll see how she feels after this experience and of course, if she chooses, we’ll let her shave again to support cancer research,” Jennifer said.
Donations are still being accepted for the 2023 fundraiser, now until December 31. To donate you can go to StBaldricks.org/events/Norwich2023. Donations can be made to individuals, teams, or the fundraiser as a whole, and all donations will count toward the overall fundraising goal.
To donate directly to Gwendalyn, visit StBaldricks.org/participants/mypage/1110185/2023.
Last years event raised $54,860, surpassing their goal of $31,000. This years goal was set at $50,000, and as of yesterday the Norwich St. Baldrick’s fundraiser has raised $49,236.