As a stylist ran a buzzer across Kara Wissing’s head Sunday, her brown locks fell to the floor and her eyes began to well up with tears.
“I’m just happy,” the 23-year-old Sayville resident told her audience as they watched her get her head completely shaved at the Nutty Irishman in Bay Shore.
It was the second time Wissing has opted to go bald. In 2013, she decided to do it on a whim after learning that a friend was volunteering as a barber at the annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser hosted at the Main Street bar.
Throughout the month of March, St. Baldrick’s events are held throughout the country to raise money for pediatric cancer research. Participants, who tend to mostly be male, collect donations and then get their heads shaved as a sign of solidarity for children who lose their hair while battling cancer.
In her first year participating, Wissing admitted she didn’t know much about the charity.
“I didn’t even know you could raise money in advance, but I walked around the bar and I was able to raise $600 that day,” she said.
But this year, she planned ahead and was able to raise roughly $6,000 in the weeks leading up to her shave. The event was also more emotional this time around, she said, because she’s connected with some of the children fighting cancer, including Mary DeLorenzo of Islip Terrace.
When Wissing met Mary at the 2013 event, she was battling leukemia, but the 10-year-old has been in remission for the past year.
“She was my inspiration,” Wissing said.
Perhaps inspired by Wissing, Mary said she wants to shave her head at next year’s event.
Nearly 150 people braved the shave at Sunday’s event, which was expected to raise about $45,000, according to Catherine Gabreski of the Nutty Irishman.
The event’s organizer, Keith Zizis, 43, of West Islip, said he began hosting the fundraiser at the bar five years ago to honor the memory of Brendan Caselli, the son of a former classmate who died from cancer when he was only 3.
Jess O’Sullivan had a similar motivation for getting her head shaved for the first time Sunday. The 29-year-old Bay Shore resident said in the last five years, she’s watched friends and family lose children to pediatric cancer.
She said she felt helpless, but when she received an email about the St. Baldrick’s event being held in her hometown, she decided to sign up at the last minute. In just four days, she was able to raise more than $1,000 before going bald.
“As a female, to not have hair is weird and different and I’m curious to see what responses I get, but I’m showing solidarity with people who don’t have a choice in terms of whether they lose their hair,” she said. “It’s empowering.”