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‘Special gift’: Forestville raises over $7K in Bald for Bucks event

OBSERVER Photos by Braden Carmen Pictured are all of the participants at this year’s Locks of Love and Bald for Bucks fundraiser at Forestville Elementary School, along with the school’s all-time leading fundraiser, Brayden Smith.

FORESTVILLE — Shauna McMahon recently got her first glimpse at an annual tradition in Forestville that brings out the best in the district’s students. She summed the experience up in one word: incredible.

After more than a dozen years of students going Bald for Bucks and nearly two decades of getting a trim for Locks of Love, the magic of the annual fundraiser at Forestville Elementary School has not faded one bit.

This year, 30 total participants across the two fundraisers raised more than $7,100 for Roswell Park in the fight against cancer. Of the 18 participants raising money to go Bald for Bucks, leading the way was Warren Ferry with $1,200 collected. Ali and Ava Nearhoof combined for a total of $1,364 to participate in Locks of Love for their first time. Also participating in her first Locks of Love was Lila Jackson, a first grader, who raised $535.

“The amount of money raised is pretty incredible for a small, rural school district like ours,” McMahon said.

“It’s amazing, honestly. The kids are fantastic and I’m just really proud of them,” added Jennifer Dunn, Forestville teacher and event coordinator. “It’s shocking the amount they can raise.”

Lila Jackson, a Forestville Elementary School student, smiles as she gets a haircut from Forestville parent and alumna Abby Thompson as part of the school’s annual Locks of Love fundraiser.

The event began nearly two decades ago, led by the efforts of former teacher Carol McPeak-McDonald to start the district’s Make a Difference Day. The goal was to improve the lives of others any way you can. Along those lines, McPeak-McDonald initiated the Locks of Love fundraiser, and Dunn hopped on board.

“I thought it was awesome so I wanted to help her,” Dunn said.

A few years later, Dunn led the efforts to start Bald for Bucks to include young boys in the fun. From there, Dunn said, “it just exploded.”

One of the first participants in Bald for Bucks was Brayden Smith, an elementary student at the time. Smith just completed his first year of college at SUNY Geneseo, where he is studying business administration. He returned home to celebrate the next generation of Bald for Bucks and Locks of Love participants for this year’s event.

“It hasn’t died out at all. I think it’s really amazing to see that. It’s kept its permanence in Forestville,” Smith said. “I love to see it keep on growing.”

Forestville student Jayden Franklin smiles as Elementary Principal Shauna McMahon shaves his head during the school’s Bald for Bucks fundraiser.

In the first couple of years he participated in Bald for Bucks, Smith said he just wanted to be involved. In fourth grade, he really picked up his fundraising efforts, with $3,300 raised through Bald for Bucks – the most ever from a Forestville student at that point. From then on, the entire event continued to grow.

“It felt like the higher I went in numbers, the higher amount of kids did it,” Smith said. “I didn’t recognize it back then, but looking back now, I think that was a really big impact I saw.”

Over his entire time at Forestville, Smith raised over $14,000 through Bald for Bucks. Smith also continued his efforts to support Roswell Park through can drives, working with the YRoswell Street Team, and also fundraised to participate in the Ride for Roswell event last year. In all, Smith has raised more than $25,000 for Roswell Park in the fight against cancer.

“It’s opened up countless doors for me,” Smith said of his fundraising efforts. “It has given me a way to give back to the community. That’s something I’ve loved doing since I was a little kid. Finding a source to really pour it all into has really changed me. It kept my heart humble.”

Superintendent John O’Connor praised Smith for his efforts throughout his time at Forestville and beyond. Noting his presence at the event, O’Connor said, “Brayden has been raising money for Bald for Bucks for his whole career. The fact that he hasn’t forgotten about us and cares about this event too builds a legacy even beyond our school.”

McMahon also called Smith’s return to the school to speak about the impact he has made “pretty incredible and very special.”

DJ Anthony, formerly of Kiss 98.5 FM, was the emcee for the event again this year, as he was a year ago. He told the crowd of students, parents, and staff, “There’s something special about coming to Forestville Elementary.” He highlighted that year after year, Forestville comes together as a family in the fight against cancer. To his point, five pairs of relatives participated together in Bald for Bucks or Locks of Love this year, and Abby Thompson, a Forestville parent and alumna, donated her time to give free haircuts for Locks of Love for the tenth year.

“I think it just shows the kind of community we have. This is a giving community, they care about others,” O’Connor said. “This is a fun event and the kids have a good time. What could be bad about that?”

“This district functions like a family,” Dunn added. “A long time ago, it’s why I wanted to work here. It feels like a family community and they support each other.”

McMahon, the newest member of the Forestville family, felt the impact of the event on the community in her first year.

“It’s generations of families who have attended the school, or had children attend the school, and they come back to be a part of this. It reaches pretty far within the community,” McMahon said.

McMahon even joined in on the fun to shave a few heads. She stood next to second grade teacher Gary Worosz as they each shaved the heads of students participating in Bald for Bucks.

“I was trying not to make any mistakes. I was taking my time,” McMahon joked.

McMahon also gave the first swipe with the razor to Marleigh Jagoda, who participated in both Locks of Love and Bald for Bucks. “That was a pretty special gift that she gave,” McMahon said.

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