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A hair-raiser! St. Baldrick's cancer charity brings in millions, one shorn head at a time

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    Brent McCreesh, 10, receives a haircut Sunday alongside soccer teammate Timmy Donahue at a 'Team Brent' St. Baldrick's Foundation event to raise money to fight childhood cancer. (Courtesy: Mike McCreesh)

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    Brent McCreesh, 10, with his father, Mike McCreesh, who was recently named to the board of directors at the St. Baldrick's Foundation, which has raised more than $150 million to fight childhood cancer since its inception. (Courtesy: Mike McCreesh)

This is a story about the power of good, and what three guys — sitting in a bar musing about how life is good — can do when they set their minds to giving something back.

Tim Kenny challenged two of his insurance industry colleagues, John Bender and Enda McDonnell, in July 1999 to give back to society since life for the trio was “pretty good,” according to Kenny. Less than a year later, on March 17, 2000, the first St. Baldrick’s Foundation event was held at a Manhattan bar where 19 heads where shaved, resulting in $104,000 in donations to the Children’s Oncology Group.

“We wanted to do something more beneficial than hanging out at the bar for the whole day,” Kenny told FoxNews.com. “And it grew rapidly from there.”

In 2012 alone, the foundation raised nearly $33.5 million for pediatric cancer, thanks to more than 56,000 participants, including roughly 7,000 women. All told, the California-based non-profit 501 (c)3 organization has raised more than $151 million to fight childhood cancer since its inception and funds more pediatric cancer research grants than any other organization except the U.S. government, Kenny said.

“You help other people, that’s what you do."

- Mike McCreesh

One of those freshly clipped heads belongs to Brent McCreesh, a 10-year-old Connecticut boy who was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma in 2004 and was given less than a 50 percent chance of survival. McCreesh, who is now cancer free, was among more than 300 people who received a fresh cut in the name of charity on Sunday during a St. Baldrick’s “Team Brent” event at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield, Conn.

McCreesh’s father, Mike, told FoxNews.com it was the ninth consecutive year for the “Team Brent” fundraising event and the third time his son has personally stepped up to the barber chair.

“We didn’t want him to for the first few years because obviously he’s been there,” Mike McCreesh said. “But for him, he’s just doing it now to be with his friends. There’s no outward connection that ‘this is for me.’ But the exposure of doing it helps keep him aware of it, and that’s probably helpful.”

For McCreesh, the “greatest outcome” of becoming involved with the foundation — and recently being named to its board of directors — is seeing what ideals and principles it has instilled in youngsters, including his two other children, 12-year-old Madison and 8-year-old Kira.

“You help other people, that’s what you do,” McCreesh said of those lessons learned. “It’s kind of in their DNA now. That’s what they do. And that’s going to live long beyond these St. Baldrick’s events. It’s a natural cycle now that’s just fantastic.”

Kenny, meanwhile, takes solace in “seeing those kids in remission and doing well,” including Brent.

“What I get out of it is seeing the needle move on the cure and seeing a child in remission,” he said. “Forty-five years ago, a child diagnosed with pediatric cancer had a 10 percent rate of survival. Today, they have about an 80 percent chance. That’s pretty powerful.”

On average, 1 to 2 children for every 10,000 in the United States develop cancer each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2007, approximately 10,400 children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer and about 1,545 children will die from the disease, making it the leading cause of death by disease among U.S. children ages 1 to 14. The five-year survival rate for all childhood cancers has increased from 58 percent in 1975-77 to 79.6 percent in 1996-2003.

Kenny hopes he can do his part in driving those figures further in the right direction, beginning with hundreds of shaving events throughout the next few weeks and months throughout the United States and abroad in hopes of eclipsing last year’s fundraising record. More than 1,300 events with “levity and fun” were held last year in all 50 states and in 30 countries, he said.

Hopefully, the foundation won’t last forever though, Kenny said. If there’s no foundation, that means there’s no more pediatric cancer.

“If we get rid of the foundation, we’ve cured childhood cancer and we can move on to something else,” he said. “But we had no idea it would grow to this magnitude.”

Click for more on Team Brent.

Click for more on St. Baldrick's Foundation.

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