Kids, bikers come together to fight cancer

Saturday, January 21, 2017 - 14:25
Hair-raising event raises nearly $2,000 for charity
  • Riley Sheldon gets her head shaved by AFJROTC instructor Chief Master Sgt. (Ret.) Bill McNew during a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's childhood cancer foundation on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2016 at Eagle River High School. Sheldon, a junior, raised more than $1,700 with the help of a $1,000 donation from the Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club.

If the kids and bikers of Eagle River have anything to say about it, cancer’s in for one heck of a fight.

Tears and locks were shed Tuesday at Eagle River High School as seven members of the school’s Air Force JROTC program had their heads shaved as part of a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which benefits children’s cancer. The fundraisers have become popular in recent years, but the event at ERHS had a couple unique twists.

Event organizer Riley Sheldon shaved her head last year for the cause. Her goal was $1,000, but she only raised $750. She set the same goal this year, and with the help of friends was able to cobble together more than $600 before Tuesday’s mass head-shaving. Then the bikers stepped in.

Dan Coffee of the Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club surprised Sheldon with a check for $1,000 from the group, stunning the young woman.

“I’m beyond grateful,” said Sheldon during a lunchtime event in the school’s common area.

The club got involved in the effort thanks to the work of Kaleb Keller-Coffey, a freshman at ERHS who is in AFJROTC with Sheldon. Keller-Coffey’s mom, Suzanne, is currently undergoing cancer treatment herself. She said when her son heard about
Sheldon’s fundraiser, he immediately wanted to help.

“He jumped on board,” said Keller-Coffey, who choked back tears as she discussed the fundraiser.

Kaleb passed out flyers and raised more than $100 on his own, and the motorcycle club decided to step up with their own donation. He said helping out Sheldon was an obvious decision.

“She’s the most kindest person I’ve met next to my mom,” said the freshman.

Kaleb said Sheldon is the kind of person who would help anyone.

“She is one of the best people in the entire school,” he said.

Besides, he pointed out, someone needs to fight back against cancer.

“Someone needs to take that darn thing down,” he said.

After she was presented with a check, Sheldon sat down in a chair alongside several fellow AFJROTC students and had her short hair shaved down to the scalp by Chief Master Sgt. (Ret.) Bill McNew.

McNew said he’s 100 percent supportive of Sheldon’s fundraising work.

“Any time a student believes so strongly in a cause it’s important we support that,” McNew said.

Sheldon said a shaved head is a small sacrifice to help kids in need.

“I’m not going to lie, sometimes I spend an hour in front of the mirror doing my make-up and hair,” said Sheldon, a 17-year-old junior.

She hopes to use the money to help St. Baldrick’s find cancer treatments that don’t rely on chemotherapy and radiation, which can be devastating for young patients.

“Those kids can actually die from the treatment alone,” she said.

As Sheldon and her fellow AFJROTC cadets got their heads shaved, a steady stream of ERHS students stepped up to donate money to the cause. After handing over a $10 bill, student Hayden McIntire said it was gratifying to see people coming together for a cause near to his heart.

“It makes me happy,” he said.

McIntire’s father died of cancer when he was just 7, and he said Tuesday’s event was touching.

“I’m glad to see some people really care,” he said.

Watching the students donate their own money had Suzanne Keller-Coffey nearly speechless.

“Almost every kid has given their lunch money for this,” she said.

By the end of the event, Sheldon had raised about $2,000 – twice her original goal. She said she hopes her efforts will make others think about the trials that cancer patients endure.

“I think we just take so much for granted,” she said.

Anyone wishing to donate to Sheldon’s fundraiser can visit her fundraising page at www.stbaldricks.org/participants/riley2017

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Coffey's last name.

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