Ottawa resident Chris Hofley kicked off the Victoria Day long weekend by promising to shave his head all-the-way bald if the greater community could raise $1,000 in support of youth mental health services at CHEO.
He hadn't had a haircut for many months and was dealing with a shaggy moptop. It just had to go, he felt. All of it.
By Monday, he was hairless but happy after witnessing his campaign grow faster than grey roots between dye jobs. To date, his personal campaign has raised more than $86,000 for kids in need of help from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
“I’m completely blown away,” the 35-year-old communications manager for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), a part-time journalism instructor at Algonquin College and a volunteer crisis responder with Kids Help Phone, said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m not surprised people have stepped up in this city; it’s a generous city, but I’m blown away by the reach it’s had."
He's so far received more than 900 donations, ranging for the most part from $5 to $500.
On Thursday morning, Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health for Ottawa Public Health, announced she was joining the movement by offering to dye her hair, should the campaign reach $80,000 in donations.
Previously, Beacon Hill-Cyrville Ward Coun. Tim Tierney and his wife Jenny helped to raise the baldness bar by shaving their heads. So did TSN 1200 personality Steve Lloyd. OC Transpo bus driver Pepe Valencia, previously named an Every Day Hero by the Ottawa RedBlacks football team, did away with his trademark white beard when donations reached $15,000.
‘Stuntman’ Stu Schwartz from Move 100.3 FM made good on his promise to chow down on his most-loathed pizza combo, Hawaiian, once the campaign hit the $25,000 mark. Schwartz has also pledged to permanently brand himself with a pineapple pizza tattoo if donations amount to $100,000 – a goal that's looking more and more attainable each day.
“I think he’s probably starting to sweat,” said Hofley. No word on whether his tat would be extra large.
Having an influencer like Schwartz connected to the fundraiser has elevated the grassroots movement to a new level, acknowledged Hofley, a former news reporter who was born and raised in Ottawa.
“I have a lot of good friends who are always down to following my wacky ideas but my social media reach, compared to a guy like Stuntman Stu, is tiny,” he said.
Ottawa Centre MP and Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna not only made a donation but is offering to dye her blonde tresses an eco-friendly green if the campaign gets to $70,000. Oh, it did, thanks to a previous pledge by Matt Skube from CTV News to shave his enviable head of hair at the $75,000 mark. And to think, he was initially concerned he'd set an amount that was out of reach.
Mayor Jim Watson has played it safe by agreeing to go bald at the $1-million milestone. As leader of a large Canadian city, he does have an image to maintain, Hofley said, agreeably.
"But, hey, if he’s willing to do it for a million, we’re coming for him."
Other notables who pledged to shave, colour or wax, should certain milestones be hit, are: Dylan Black from boom 99.7 FM, small business owner and advocate Michael Wood, 580 CFRA’s Maddy Eisenberg and Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell. There's also an effort underway to attract big-name celebrities from outside of Ottawa.
"The idea of giving CHEO a few more dollars to help them do what they do for kids' mental health was an easy choice, ultimately."
Mental health is an important and personal cause for Hofley, who struggled with his own issues in his early 20s.
“The idea of giving CHEO a few more dollars to help them do what they do for kids' mental health was an easy choice, ultimately,” he said.
Similarly, the CHEO Foundation recognizes that the fundraiser is addressing a serious situation. The COVID-19 pandemic, which started in March 2020, has had a devastating impact on children and youth.
“The challenges and fundraising phenomena started by Chris Hofley and embraced by so many of Ottawa’s most recognizable faces and voices is absolutely incredible,” said Kevin Keohane, president and CEO of the CHEO Foundation. “When there is a crisis in our community, people come together in the most creative and inspiring ways to help address it. Our region and CHEO are confronting a youth mental health crisis together. It’s not a fun or light topic but the movement started by Chris has been fun and frivolous from the start and people are jumping in to give his campaign a boost and give a boost to CHEO and the kids and families who rely on us.
“The ripple effect has been so fun to watch, and it’s given the entire community something to feel good about at a time when so many people are struggling to feel good. “
Hofley believes the campaign has enough momentum to continue until the CHEO Telethon, slated to be virtually broadcast Sunday, June 6 on CTV Ottawa. “I just don’t want to stop anytime soon,” he said. “It’s too much fun. I have my phone set for new donations and I get a thrill every time it dings.”
The telethon will see donations matched up to $75,000 by home builder Valecraft, Liuna Local 527 and 527A, Modern Niagara, PCL Construction, TD and Stinson & Son Ltd.