The clock reads 8:05, and it’s time for the all school meeting at the Lower Campus.
There’s a brief introduction. OVS fourth grader Jake Larkin and a fellow student, his friend Pako Rilling, are on stage in the Greenberg Activities Center nervously shifting.
Jake has his mind set on shaving his head. Why shave his head, much less in front of the entire school? To raise money for and awareness about Pediatric Cancer Research.
At five and a half years old, Jake was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia – not a cancer, but a rare disease in which the bone marrow ceases to produce enough blood cells.
The knowledge gained through study of pediatric cancer was what saved Jake though, and it is a cause very close to his heart – so close that he wanted to share his advocacy with the OVS community.
“As Jake’s parents we are super proud of Jake, that he cares so much about giving back!” said Jake’s mom, Kimberly Cluff, on behalf of herself and Jake’s father, Robert Larkin. “We are thankful that Ojai Valley School is the type of amazing place that is embracing Jake’s event.”
Jake has endured much for one so young. He has gone through chemotherapy, and he has lost his hair. He has undergone a bone marrow transplant that saved his life.
Still, aplastic anemia is hard to cure. Hard to fight. But it can be conquered.
St. Baldrick’s Foundation is committed to beating children’s cancer, and Jake is committed to supporting that cause.
So, on a recent morning, after a short film made by his older sister CatieJo detailing what the family went through to get back to a happy healthy Jake, a green hairdressers cape billowed out and his collar-length hair was gathered into rough pony tails.
Then the scissors came out.
Grinning from ear to ear, Pako took them and sawed through the base of his friend’s ponytail. The next moment the razor was buzzing, and the next half of his hair was gone.
As the hair hit the ground, Pako stepped up to have his head shaved too. Pako, also a fourth grader, decided when he heard what Jake was doing that he also wanted to help the cause.
Then math teacher Doug Colborn stepped out of the audience, speaking for himself and science teacher Matt Inman, and set in motion a snowball of donations to support Jake and his St. Baldrick’s donation.
With the hum of the razor serving as the backbeat, Mr. Colborn said that he and Mr. Inman would donate $100 to Jake’s fundraising efforts and challenged anyone to match that.
The call bounced across the room and back again, and a tide of donations began to roll in. The student council, the Thacher family, the equestrian program, and individual teachers.
Interspersing these matched donations were kids cautiously approaching the microphone, ready to donate whatever money they had in their pockets.
The microphone finally reached librarian Carol Hall-Mounsey, who admitted through a stuffy nose and teary eyes, that she had donated her bone marrow to her sister for a transplant 21 years ago and that she would gladly match the $100 donation.
There is nothing like the connection of two people through blood. In the case of Mrs. Hall-Mounsey and her sister that bond was already there, but in Jake’s case the bond was forged through fear and hope.
Jake has met his donor twice. Once in 2015 the Larkin family went to England to meet Jane Theobald, and then again this year when Mrs. Theobald came to California with her husband to visit.
“It was amazing, for our two families to meet, to connect in person – it was beyond anything we could have imagined,” said Kimberly Cluff, Jake’s mom.
But before Jake met his donor, before he was able to go about life normally, his life was turned on its head, and so was his family’s.
When Jake was diagnosed with the rare disease it became apparent that the best doctor to help him was in Milwaukee, so the entire family moved.
“We knew we were stronger together, that going through Jake’s illness was going to take all of the love of all of us,” Mrs. Cluff said. “We did everything we could to stay together.”
When it became clear chemotherapy was not the way to heal Jake, the doctors said he would need a bone marrow transplant. In his extended time in the hospital, his family members did everything they possibly could to lead normal lives.
“When Jake was in the hospital we tried really hard to do things like at home, so for example, every night we watched a movie together, all piled in Jake’s hospital room,” said Robert Larkin, Jake’s dad. “Every time Jake got the ok to leave the hospital we went and got frozen yogurt at our favorite yogurt place.”
As the family worked to make sure life for Jake was as good as could be, Jake met a boy his age, Sam Sommer. Sam was in the hospital for acute myeloid leukemia. He and Jake quickly formed a friendship and the families grew close.
St. Baldrick’s challenges people to shave their heads to raise awareness for those who don’t choose to lose their hair.
After the chemo, the hair loss, the months of waiting, and the thousands of new people who signed into the National Marrow Donor Program, Jake finally had a match.
He is now a healthy boy on his way to change the world of pediatric cancer research, one haircut at a time.
The OVS second grade has rallied behind him. All the money generated through the second graders’ annual bread sale will go to Jake’s donation fund.
Jake has raised far above his $5,000 goal, nearing $8,000 at this point. He is changing the world. He is helping save people like himself, like Sam, and anyone else suffering from diseases that can be helped from the research he is helping to fund.
“Jake [shaved his head] this morning to show that you don’t have to be a grown-up to make a difference,” Mrs. Cluff said after her son had his hair cut. “Jake being bald for a bit will help the world will be a better place.”Share