Kieran Kelly is a third grader in Middle Village. His twin brother Kevin suffers from cerebral palsy, and for years now, Kieran's taken it upon himself to be Kevin's protector, savior, guiding light, combat buddy, and more (just as we'd hope any brother might do).
When he learned that his family's restaurant on Eliot Avenue, Kellys Pub, was going to be hosting the community's annual St. Baldrick's benefit on March 26 (wherein intrepid volunteers get their heads shaved in solidarity so as to raise funds and awareness for children with cancer), Kieran begged his father to allow him to participate.
As Mike Kelly, proprietor of Kellys and host of Friday night's festivities, recalled, "He told me, 'shaving my head won't make me look funny, dad - it'll just make me look different.' He wanted to make a point, like he always does with his brother, that people shouldn't really look any differently at kids who are suffering."
So determined was Kieran to get this message across to his community that the Our Lady of Hope 3rd grader wrote a letter to his school's principal in search of donations and support, a letter which the suitably impressed principal distributed to the entire student body, and which brought in more than $3,000 in donations by the time of the event, as well as a cornucopia of goodwill and encouragement for the young activist.
It's an achievement that stands out all the more considering that Kieran had decided to take part only four days prior. (In fact, the entire event prides itself on similar up-from-the-bootstraps energy and urgency, as Kellys had only decided to host on March 18, once they'd learned that Maspeth's Connoly's Corner would not be doing so, as had long been the custom.)
On Friday March 26, at 9 p.m., just a wee bit past his bedtime, Kieran Kelly made good on his promise, and got his dirty-blonde locks shaved off in front of a packed house, courtesy of the gentle expertise lent to the occasion by Susan Sheane from nearby Mirror, Mirror Salon. Cheers and applause greeted each tuft of hair that hit the floor, as flashbulbs popped everywhere, but none brighter than the mega-watt smile of a 9-year-old who knows he's doing a pretty cool thing for a really important cause.
This year marks the 10th Anniversary of St. Baldrick's, an organization whose roots began when a group of reinsurance executives Tim Kenny, John Bender, and Enda McDonnell turned their industry's St. Patrick's Day party into a benefit for kids with cancer. The three had planned to raise "$17,000 on the 17th," recruiting 17 colleagues to raise $1,000 each to be shorn.
Instead, that first St. Baldrick's event, held on March 17, 2000, raised over $104,000. These days, St. Baldrick's is the world's largest volunteer-driven fundraising program for childhood cancer research. The Foundation now funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government. (You can check them out at www.StBaldricks.org.)
As proud as he was of his son's relentless effort to make sure his message was seen and heard, Mike Kelly was equally touched by the community's response in terms of both turnout and donations, and by the nine other brave souls who showed up to get their heads shaved for the cause that night.
"I'm completely blown away by the support from the school, and from the community,” said Kelly. “There's not one person who heard about this who told me 'no' or 'I can't.'"
In fact, the Kelly family's St. Baldrick's event raised $10,000 on Friday night alone, with an additional $5,000 in corresponding donations already on the way.
Admittedly, now that a lot of the hoopla and the limelight is somewhat behind them, time again for Kieran and Kevin to get back to the business of being the very best of twin brothers, a bond that even their own grandmother Audrey finds awe-inspiring.
"Kieran tells me, 'know what, Nan? If I get my head shaved, maybe they'll just stare at me... and they'll leave Kevin alone,'” she said.
To honor the dedication of St. Baldrick's participants like Kieran Kelly with a contribution, feel free to contact Kellys in Middle Village at (718) 476-8444, or call the St. Baldrick's Foundation directly at (888) 899-BALD (2253).