PORTAGE PARK — Thorp Scholastic Academy Teacher Vince Coughlin had to face fourth-graders last week as they took an electric razor to his face and head in an effort to raise money for charity.
Coughlin said it was the least he could do for Noah Padilla, one of Coughlin's students at Thorp, who has faced far worse.
"He's one of the toughest kids I know," Coughlin said of the 12-year-old, who was born with a rare tissue disorder called Loeys-Dietz syndrome. For all the time Noah's condition has kept him from class or wracked him with pain, he never missed an assignment, Coughlin said.
So at the beginning of the school year, Coughlin devised a plan for those at the school at 6024 W. Warwick Ave. to show they had Noah's back. The teacher would spend six months growing out his hair and beard, all the while selling raffle tickets for the chance to shave it all off during a school assembly.
"I thought it would be a good way to get the rest of the school interested, and get students excited," Coughlin said of his fundraising plan. "It's a pretty supportive group of teachers and kids here, and people are always looking for ways to help out."
By February, when Coughlin had a beard scruffy enough to stow away pencils, he'd sold more than 1,000 raffle tickets for $1 each, he said. The entire sum went to the Loeys-Dietz Foundation, which pays for research and education on the syndrome.
Since the disease was only described for the first time in 2005, and now estimated to affect about 3,000 people worldwide, the foundation has its work cut out for it, said Noah's mother, Heidi Padilla.
"It's a very frightening syndrome, but we want to spread the message that with proper treatment and research, there's hope," Padilla said. "So the support coming from Thorp is going to save a lot of lives."
On Friday, Noah got to shear his teacher in front of half the school, Coughlin said. After he took a few swipes, Noah passed the clippers to the two students whose names were drawn in the raffle.
Noah was "so excited, he couldn't sleep the night before" the big event," Padilla said.
"He realizes that it's about so much more than just being able to shave his teacher," she said. "To know that here's a teacher and a community that cares so much ... means so much, not just to him, but to his family."