Doug Gonzalez, a Rockville Centre sixth-grader, used to be the only boy in his class who was bald.
But friends, family and classmates have rallied around Doug, who lost his hair due to brain cancer treatments. They worked together to raise more than $21,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, shattering the $5,000 goal they had set. And many of the boys in Doug’s class showed up at the St. Baldrick’s event at St. Agnes Parish Center on March 23 and had their heads shaved to show solidarity with Doug.
Many of the sixth-grade girls, along with students of all ages from the middle and high schools, volunteered to sell merchandise, clean tables and run arts-and-crafts booths at the event.
Powder blue T-shirts peppered the crowd, each emblazoned with two bold black words that have become a rallying cry: Doug Strong.
“Dougie is the latest of several kids in Rockville Centre to get cancer, and they’re beating him up terribly to kill it,” said John Bender, one of the co-founders of St. Baldrick’s and a supporter of Doug’s cause. “It’s great to see his teachers, family, coaches, and even students from other schools come together to support him.”
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, co-founded in 2005 by Bender and his friends Tim Kenny and Enda McDonnell, is a nonprofit organization that raises funds worldwide for research into cures for childhood cancer. By 2012, it had raised $100 million.
Other local groups have taken up Doug’s cause, including the RVC Moms and a Facebook group called Help Doug Gonzalez. The latter, led by South Side High School junior Forrest Butensky, has raised over $1,000 by holding bake sales.
“I was nervous at first when organizing the group, because kids in the high school, they don’t really know who Dougie is, so I didn’t know if they would want to help,” Butensky said. “But after a few weeks, kids want to bake, their moms are volunteering to bake, and at school, people keep asking me when we’re having more sales.”
Butensky, his twin brother, Jon, and his mother, Jean, are part of a tight-knit community in Rockville Centre’s south side that has been championing Doug’s cause since the beginning of his ordeal. It was Jean’s friendship with Doug’s parents, Steve and Bridget Gonzalez, that inspired Forrest to begin his baking fundraisers.
Although Doug’s treatment is nearing an end, his supporters appear to have no intention of calling a halt to their fundraising efforts. Help Doug Gonzalez will host another bake sale at SSHS on Monday, and St. Baldrick’s expects a continued influx of donations over the next few months.
“The Rockville Centre chapter should raise about $250,000 when this year’s fundraisers are finished,” said Bender. “And the Dougie Strong team will probably be responsible for about 20 percent of that.”
Members of the Gonzalez family, who were unavailable for comment, recently returned from Boston, where Doug was receiving treatment. He is at home with his parents and a new dog, reportedly well on his way to recovery.