by Chelsea Dill
Students cheered and pounded their feet in the Chocksett Middle School gymnasium in support of male teachers from Chocksett and Houghton schools on October 19, after stylists from Chris’ Barber Shop shaved their beards for a great cause. Moments earlier, Chocksett Assistant Principal Dave Fredette welcomed students to the kickoff pep rally in honor of the Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation. While he explained the story behind the Foundation, a slideshow gave visual impact to the goal of the event: “Growing Beards for a Great Cause.” In this case, the cause is to spread awareness of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).
The Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation began in 2011 after Josh Thibodeau’s sudden death from an undetected cardiac condition. According to the Foundation’s website, its mission is “dedicated to raising awareness in preventing sudden cardiac death (SCD) in children and adolescents, and providing charitable assistance to individuals, families, and organizations.” Since 2011, the Foundation has donated automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to schools and families of children with the same condition, awarded scholarships to Wachusett Regional High School soccer players, given a Mountview Elementary Good Sportsmanship award, as well as sponsored cardiac health screenings at local schools. Prior events run by the Foundation include soccer tournaments, a pastime that Josh Thibodeau, a member of Holden Youth Soccer, was passionate about.
Fredette knew Josh Thibodeau as a student during his time teaching 6th grade at Mountview Elementary School in Holden. Fredette came up with the idea to hold a Beard-A-Thon fundraiser after connecting with Sterling residents, Barri and Stephen Godbout, who became involved with the Foundation after their son was diagnosed with HCM. “After hearing that the Godbouts were involved with the Thibodeau foundation and looking for ways to support them, I threw the idea out to them,” says Fredette.
While beards were shaved off during the kickoff, the real event begins when participants grow them out for 116 days. During that time, sponsors can donate a flat rate or pledge a certain amount per day to any participant. “We’re planning to grow our beards as long as possible,” says Fredette. “We’re looking for sponsors and people to promote the fundraiser.”
While the Beard-A-Thon encourages donations or sponsoring a teacher, there are many other ways students can show support for the Foundation.
“Even if students just pass the word along to friends, neighbors or family, every little bit helps,” says Fredette. He hopes that awareness and participation will make students feel empowered to create positive change in their own lives and in the lives of others. In addition to becoming certified in CPR and training in the use of AEDs, people can spread “mooseness” by performing random acts of kindness, something Josh Thibodeau exemplified throughout his life.
“Josh’s nickname was Moose,” says Josh’s father Ralph Thibodeau. “He was a good and kind kid. He had a good sense of right and wrong and really stuck up for what was right. For me, “mooseness” means being a good person and respecting everyone.”
Thibodeau is actively involved in a number of upcoming Foundation projects. “We’re looking to donate anywhere from six to 10 AEDs to any Worcester school that doesn’t have any,” he says. “We also want to train Worcester middle and high school coaches in CPR. Last year, the Foundation’s CPR training event in conjunction with WRSD trained over 60 coaches. The Foundation is also supporting two legislative bills that mandate AEDs in all public schools and at school-sponsored sporting events, as well as instituting classes for high school coaches about the warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest.
“We never want any family to go through what we have,” he says. “If we catch one potential heart condition, we believe this is time and money well spent. I know we’ve touched many lives with our exposure so far, and we will continue to expand our reach.”
By the elated shouts from Chocksett students and eager Beard-a-Thon participants, it seems that the Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation will keep hearts open for the next 116 days and beyond.
For more information about the Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation Beard-A-Thon visit http://facebook.com/TheJoshThibodeauHelpingHeartsFoundation/, or http://facebook.com/Beard-A-Thon-845162452271206/.
To make a donation, visit http://joshthibodeauhelpinghearts.com/, or visit Chocksett Middle School, 32 Boutelle Road, Sterling, or Chris’ Barber Shop, 50 Leominster Road, Sterling.