What do space science education and cancer awareness have in common? A lot when you're talking about one of the region's most unique fundraisers, Planet Head Day, where participants raise money for a local cancer organization by agreeing to have their heads shaved and painted as planets, dwarf planets, moons, comets and asteroids. Aroostook County's 7th annual Planet Head Day takes place on Saturday, Feb. 16, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the University of Maine at Presque Isle's Wieden Gymnasium. This not-to-be-missed event is free and the public is invited to attend.
Planet Head Day is the major fundraising event for C-A-N-C-E-R [Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery], an Aroostook County-based organization that assists cancer patients and their families. In just a few short years, Planet Head Day has become one of the most widely known single-day fundraising events in northern Maine. This year, organizers hope to exceed the $30,000 they raised last year.
C-A-N-C-E-R board members are very excited about this year's event because of all the support and volunteer efforts. All monies raised during Planet Head Day will go to support area community cancer patients in treatment. The group strives to help patients with travel expenses and other treatment-related expenses that are not covered by insurance or other programs. It has also, in special circumstances, helped in other appropriate ways to bridge gaps in the patient's financial situation until a more permanent solution can be secured.
Planet Head Day was originally established as a NASA-funded celebration of the University's involvement in the New Horizons space mission to Pluto, which is now only two years away from its arrival. The event is held each year near the February 18th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto in 1930. The University's Northern Maine Museum of Science has always sought imaginative ways to teach science and developed the program to combine science and cancer education into a single package.
On Planet Head Day, community members from throughout Maine and nearby Canada come to the University to enjoy an afternoon of food, fun, and science and cancer education—there will be an assortment of space and cancer-based displays and programs at the event—and, best of all, to have their heads painted as the celestial body of their choice. The staff of the Parsons Street Barber Shop and Great Beginnings Hair Boutique will be available to provide free haircuts for those willing to shave their heads for the occasion, while "bald" caps will offer a less permanent option for participants. The bald heads that result are in recognition of and support for the many cancer patients who lose their hair during cancer treatment.
Last year's Planet Head Day saw more than 100 "planetheads" participate, with about half opting for shaved heads. Over the years, planetheads have included community leaders, teachers, pastors, parents, and faculty and students from the University.
Live emceeing during the event will again be presented by WAGM's Ted Shapiro and UMPI student Andrew Hunt, and Pizza Hut will once again provide free pizza. The Caribou, Presque Isle and Houlton Pizza Huts have all been raising money ahead of the big day and the managers for the Presque Isle and Houlton stores have pledged to shave their heads for the cause, while the Caribou manager has opted for a bald cap.
Many other local businesses and organizations participate in this event, often by raising money in support of one of the planetheads. WAGM is an active fundraiser again this year and, if their work can raise $6,000 prior to the event, news director and anchor Chris Weimer will again have his head shaved. Weimer and WAGM News team members including Shawn Cunningham, Kelly O'Mara, and Dick Palm will be at Graves Shop 'N Save, the Aroostook Centre Mall, and other locations during the next two weeks to raise money. Well-known planetheads Brian Hamel and Father Jean-Paul Labrie have raised thousands of dollars over the past several years for the cause; they and many other planethead veterans—like the County "Red Hats"—are expected to be on hand for the big day. This year, there will be many new heads joining in to show their support to all those who have lost their hair to cancer, now and in the future.
"It's always interesting to see who shows up. We have seen whole families come to have their heads shaved in honor of someone who has cancer," Kevin McCartney, Director of the Northern Maine Museum of Science and event coordinator, said. "It is also remarkable to see the number of kids who come, often with money raised by their classrooms, and sit in the barber chair."
Again this year, Lynwood Winslow of Presque Isle will volunteer his laptop, camera, and printing technology to photograph each Planet Head and produce a special certificate for them to take home. For more information about participating in the event or to assist with the head painting, contact McCartney at 207-768-9482 or Jeanie McGowan at 207-768-9747.
Money for the paints and theatrical "bald" caps are provided by a grant from NASA. Videos of past Planet Head Days, provided by Frank Grant of Grant Visuals, can be seen on youtube.com. For those who cannot attend the festivities, donations can be sent directly to C-A-N-C-E-R, P.O. Box 811, Presque Isle, ME 04769, or call Louise Calabrese at 764-0766.