"Hats On Day" turned 15 years-old in 2010, and the celebration was marked today at Henry Elementary of the Parkway School District, where the fundraising program for kids with cancer originally started.
Back in 1995, four classmates of Kevin Beffa, a cancer patient and student at the school, were inspired to organize a fundraiser to help him. Jessica Stoddard, Lindsey Kociela, Risa Shapiro and Wendy Kravitz had students pay to wear a hat during school, a symbol of Kevin's struggle since he lost his hair in treatment.
Sadly, Kevin passed away just before the first event, but it has lasted through the years benefitting Friends of Kids with Cancer, a local organization devoted to enriching the daily lives of kids with cancer. Friends has continued the tradition, reaching out to local schools, businesses and places of worship.
"It's neat to see how the school has changed and grown (since Kevin was there)," said Kathy Beffa, Kevin's mother who was on hand Thursday with the family for the festivities. "It's so marvelous to see the enthusiasm of the kids wearing the hats, and the willingness of the parents to give and participate."
In 2009, almost 200 schools participated with a Hats On Day event, contributing $45,000 for Friends of Kids with Cancer and its programs. This year, during the first two weeks of March alone, almost 40 schools will take part across the St. Louis Metro area. This includes one of its biggest supporters, CBC High School, who has raised over $60,000 from this event alone over the last 15 years, as well as most of the Parkway School District.
"We do it to help the kids who have cancer," says one Henry Elementary student. "We raise money so the kids can have entertainment and smile, and also have a good (education)."
Many schools incorporate the event into the classroom, raising awareness about kids with cancer along with raising money. City Academy, a private, independent elementary school located in north St. Louis city, put on a "Hats Fashion Show" where kids and teachers modeled the crazy and stylish hats they brought to school. Some schools will integrate writing, hold assemblies or pep rallies to spread the message.
"When this first started it was so incredible to see the kids not just raising money and following their passion, but learning so much throughout the process," said Elaine Unell, formerly the Gifted Education teacher who helped start the program. "The kids are all so driven and inspired."