NEWINGTON - Before they step out of the house and onto the school bus on Friday, Oct. 5, students in town will be putting on their favorite and wackiest hats.
Some might represent a baseball team or club; others might be in disguise as a creature or character. Hair hats, small hats, green hats, tall hats. Students and faculty at all seven Newington schools are looking forward to taking part in this special day.
It’s not a costume party or a prelude to Halloween. It’s a fundraiser for the Heavenly Hats Foundation.
Since 2001, the foundation has distributed 4 million new hats to hospitals, clinics and individuals around the U.S. who treat or are suffering with cancer and subsequent hair loss from chemotherapy.
It was founded in 2001 by 10-year-old Anthony Leanna, of Wyoming. His hope was to make patients feel better as they fight a battle for their health.
“Hair loss during the battle of a disease can be uncomfortable, depressing and at times even a little humiliating,” Leanna explains. “The hat is just a small symbol of hope and love, but my wish is that it will have the power to brighten the patient’s day so that they can look to the future with a smile.”
Newington High School started the fundraiser for this organization last fall. The school community raised $1,360, well above their goal. Since it went so well, Principal Terra Tigno invited every other school in the district to jump on board this year.
“I think having it district-wide will raise a lot more awareness,” said Audrey Schuler, who is organizing NHS’ event.
As a member of the senior class and Student Council representative to the Board of Education, she’s running this year’s Pep Rally as well. Incidentally, there is a direct connection between both events.
Last year, the student body was informed that if they collected enough money for the organization, two staff members would shave their heads at the pep rally. Everyone cheered as head custodian Mr. Fravel and science teacher Mr. Kroeze walked into the gymnasium that day, razors in hand.
“The whole school enjoyed watching that,” remembered Schuler.
Both have since grown their signature long hair back.
This year, the mystery prize has yet to be determined.
“Once we decide on our fundraising goal we can figure out the fun thing we want to do at the pep rally if we meet that goal,” Schuler explained.
A group of student volunteers is distributing fliers and has hung posters around the hallways to spread the word. On that morning, those wearing hats will be asked to give a minimum $1 donation to a representative in their homeroom.
“Then we give them this sticker and they get to wear their hat,” Tigno said, holding up a red name tag that read, “Hello, I donated to Heavenly Hats.”
“Our goal is just to spread awareness about people living with illness who are in need,” she added. “No matter your age or your struggle you can still make a difference in the world.”
Other schools are following suit.
At Ruth Chaffee Elementary School, they believe in being “bucket-fillers.”
“This is possibly the best way to be a bucket-filler,” Principal Beverly Lawrence said. “By giving a small donation to wear your own hat, while simultaneously blessing someone else with a new hat.”
Lawrence hopes students see hat day as a great privilege, for a good reason.
“It is a chance to show off their hat and support an organization that affects everyone.”
At Elizabeth Green Elementary School, one-dollar donations will afford students permission to wear hats, and staff permission to dress casually.
“Cancer affects so many, including those in our community,” Principal James Marciano pointed out. “This is a small way to show our support for those in treatment.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.