"The purpose of this event is to provide science education while acknowledging our friends and neighbors who are fighting cancer," Kevin McCartney, one of the project's organizers, said.
Many of the participants have a close personal relationship with cancer. McCartney's father died of cancer a few weeks ago and project co-organizer Jeanie McGowan is a cancer survivor. The event is also a fundraiser for C.A.N.C.E.R.: Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery. This year, C.A.N.C.E.R. is planning a radio telethon on WCXU - Channel X Radio during Planet Head Day. Local businesses and organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis sponsor many of the painted heads.
"Participants and sponsors are a critical link in our fundraising goals. Without projects like Planet Head Day, we could not meet the ever increasing demand for travel funds," C.A.N.C.E.R. Treasurer Craig Green said. "In the past year, we gave donations of over $6,000 to local persons who are receiving cancer treatment. We hope that the continued support of this event by UMPI and the local community will make it one of our top fundraising events, while serving a dual purpose of raising awareness of the disease and the support that is available locally."
The event also serves as an important science education opportunity. The Northern Maine Museum of Science is an educational outreach participant in New Horizons, a NASA mission that has launched a spacecraft scheduled to reach Pluto in 2015. Science and cancer exhibits and presentations will be in nearby classrooms and groups photos will be taken in front of the Maine Solar System Model's representation of the sun.
"We think this is an important children's event as this is not only a great opportunity to learn about the solar system, but to also learn about cancer," McCartney said.
Last year, there were about 65 painted heads, including 15 shaved heads, and last year's shaved heads including a mother-daughter and a father-son pair. All of the eight planets were depicted, as well as the dwarf planet Pluto, various moons, an asteroid and a comet. Participants included community leaders, university students and the 3rd Woodstock Scouts and Cubs from Canada.
"Other regions have polar bear swims, where participants swim in icy lakes in the middle of winter," Dr. McCartney said, "but here in northern Maine we shave our heads, in cold, cold February, and do it for a cause."
This year, the event will be held on Valentine's Day. Planet Head Day is held on the weekend closest to the anniversary of the discovery of Pluto (Feb. 18, 1930). The festivities will take place in the newly renovated Folsom Hall, within a few feet of the scale model sun. As it has for every Planet Head Day so far, Pizza Hut will be contributing pizza for the event. Beverages and a "Happy Birthday, Pluto" cake also will be served to participants and visitors.
For more information about this event, contact Kevin McCartney at 768.9482 or Jeanie McGowan at 768.9747. Anyone wishing to help paint planets should contact Jeanie McGowan. Donations to C.A.N.C.E.R. can be sent to P.O. Box 811, Presque Isle, ME 04769, or delivered to Planet Head Day.