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The gifts of solidarity, kindness and plain old-fashioned fun came early this holiday season for one brave Bakersfield boy. Ben Martinez, 12, is a sixth-grader at Columbia Elementary, and was recently diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer, Aveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. In response to this daunting, unwelcome challenge, Ben’s school rallied around him like a safe, warm hug.

But as important as emotional support is to healing, Ben needed more. His cancer treatment is expensive, and requires multiple overnight trips to Los Angeles. To help with that, Ben’s principal, Bill Jager, started selling yellow bracelets inscribed with “Facing Ben’s Giant” to raise funds for whatever Ben might need.

That alone could lift a boy’s spirits, but Jager went further… all the way to bald. According to Linda Proctor, Ben’s grandmother and co-pastor of Southwest Christian Center in Bakersfield, Jager promised to shave his head in honor of Ben if they raised $3,000 in November. Surprising everyone, that goal was reached the first 10 days, and with an additional $1,000 anonymous donation, a total of $5,000 was raised. So on December 6th, before the entire student body and various district officials, Jager shaved his head during a school assembly.  

Proctor says it all started with a tiny bump on Ben’s foot that looked like a spider bite, but grew rapidly and perplexed doctors. “We got the diagnoses September 3,” she said. “This type of cancer has no cure. Every day, about 46 kids in the US get diagnosed with cancer, the leading cause of death in pediatrics.” With such grim facts, Proctor and her family needed a lift, which Jager delivered. “When Principal Jager shaved his head, my heart was just so touched. And the kids thought it was so funny! He is a real pal to the kids, very supportive.”

Lisa Race, mother of three Columbia Elementary students, was there that day. “It was amazing to listen to Mr. Jager speak about being kind and doing things for others that need our help,” Race said. “I really liked how he told the students that if they pray in their homes, then please pray for Ben and his family. We need more people like Mr. Jager, a person who leads by example.”

So far, that example has led to several Fruitvale District kids having their heads shaved too. Now, it’s a matter of faith.   

“It’s hard,” Proctor said. “As a mom, I know I can’t fix this. But I have a Greater Physician that I believe in, and the doctors have to answer to Him.”

The bracelets are $2, available at Columbia Elementary and Fruitvale Junior High. To follow Ben’s story, visit his Facebook page, “Facing Ben’s Giant,” or the Southwest Christian Center website and click on the Benevolence tab.

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