COLUMBIA — The atmosphere was gloomy Sunday afternoon at Cosmo-Bethel Park as rain had blanketed the area all morning. But under one pavilion, people displayed a mixture of gratitude, hope and pride as 16 members of local emergency response agencies prepared to make an important sacrifice for charity: their hair.
The Central Missouri Chapter of the Dream Factory hosted “Buzz the Red, White and Blue,” an event bringing together the Columbia Fire Department, the Boone County Fire Protection District, the Columbia Police Department and the Fulton Fire Department to raise money for children ages 3 to 18 with chronic or critical illnesses. It is the organization's second annual event.
Tim Bach, engineer for the Columbia Fire Department and volunteer for the Central Missouri Dream Factory, organized the event in which volunteers have their heads shaved in a show of unity with those who lose their hair during chemotherapy.
The Dream Factory is a nonprofit organization that began in 1980 in Hopkinsville, Ky., according to its Web site. The group uses the money it collects to grant wishes for children, some of whom were present Sunday giving their support, thanks and in two cases, hair.
Skyler Arends, 18, joined the Boone County Fire Protection District as a volunteer firefighter two months ago, having just graduated from the recruit class. He also has cancer, which has been in remission for a year. A year ago, the Dream Factory gave him a hot tub to ease the pain in his bones and muscles, a result of chemotherapy.
“I think it’s great that firefighters get involved,” Arends said. “It definitely made a difference in my life.”
Arends’ father, Darrin Arends, is a division chief for the Columbia Fire Department. “I’m here to support my son and support the Dream Factory,” he said.
Chris Mussatt, 20, joined the fun, taking hold of the clippers and helping a volunteer shed a little weight on his head. He smiled and held his hand high as he finished shaving the volunteer, drawing applause from the crowd of more than 30 people.
Mussatt was born with Down Syndrome and autism. His father, Tom Mussatt, has to do most of the talking for his son, whose speech is hindered by his illnesses. Tom Mussatt said that his son became involved with the Dream Factory about four years ago when they granted his wish.
“It was great,” Tom Mussatt said. “His wish was a trip to Disney in Florida.” The Dream Factory covered the trip's expenses.
With the help of his father, Chris Mussatt recalled his trip to Disney World, remembering riding Space Mountain and meeting the many Disney characters, including his favorite, Aladdin.
Chris Mussatt summed up his experience in Florida in one word: “Great.”
As the hair of the other 15 volunteers laid on the floor of the pavilion, Chris Mussatt again became the center of attention, this time sitting on the stool while volunteers from Supercuts salon trimmed his hair. At last year’s head-shaving event, Chris Mussatt’s head was completely shaved, but after problems with sunburn, his father opted for a simple trim instead.
By the time Chris Mussatt left his stool, the sun had emerged, giving the volunteers a respite from the rain and the opportunity to leave the pavilion and enjoy the park without being soaked. To finish off the day’s activities, the newly bald men stood with Dream Factory kids for a group photo.
“It’s good to see so many of the firefighters take such an interest in the kids,” Tom Mussatt said.
Jeff Heidenreich was one of the people who allowed their heads to be shaved. Heidenreich is a lieutenant with the Boone County Fire Protection District, as well as a firefighter with the Columbia Fire Department.
“I think it’s an awesome thing,” Heidenreich said before he lost his hair and mustache. Last year, he and station 8 of the Boone County Fire Protection District raised over $5,000 for the cause, using the money to sponsor a child’s trip to the Grand Canyon. That year, Heidenreich also shaved his leg for a little extra cash.
Bach said the event raised about $5,000 this year.
“And that’s enough to fund at least one dream,” Bach said. He also said that the Central Missouri chapter of the Dream Factory has granted about 475 dreams to date, averaging about 20 each year.
“Hopefully in the next year or two we’ll have made 500 dreams,” Bach said.