By Brooke Shoffner
What is there to gain from growing a beard? Masculinity? Freedom? Strange looks? Whatever the reason may be, Cape Beard: Follicles of Freedom and its bearded counterparts all share the same priorities: family, local philanthropy, and redefining what it means to be a modern man.
Beginning as a group of ten friends hanging out at the Rock Shop in Fayetteville, and inadvertently stumbling upon a national Beard Club advertisement, Cape Beard has now developed into a near 60 member roster that sponsors up to five events annually and has helped raise over $100,000. These original members, who refer to themselves as “one of ten,” have fostered a subculture of bearded men who are interested in two things: the resurgence of facial hair and giving back to the local community.
Since its creation in 2011, the nonprofit’s core beliefs mirror those of official beard clubs from generations before, but belonging to the club is more than a badge of being a gentlemen and an indication of masculinity. Cape Beard takes it one step further: they also show their neighbors a basic level of respect and offer a helping hand to those in need.
Once established as an official beard club, Cape Beard began collecting donations from its members for merchandise and general funds. They came across a friend who had been in a motorcycle accident and needed help getting on her feet. Club President and local tattoo artist Johnny “Awesome” Ivey says the club immediately and unanimously decided to give the collected money to their friend instead. Once this initial donation was made, the club became less of a stunt and developed into the nonprofit that it is today. Johnny Awesome explains, “That event fueled our passion to help our neighbors. We all felt it.”
From there, the club focused on only raising money for organizations within Cumberland County, to keep funds circulating closer to home. “We don’t know how it happened, but it became a brotherhood,” Steve Brack Vice President of the club described. The club notably donates 100% back to their causes. In 2016, Cape Beard even received an official proclamation from Mayor Nat Robertson deeming May 14 as “Cape Beard Day.”
And although one of the few requirements of Cape Beard is to have facial hair nine months out of the year, (along with a strict “no Crocs policy”), the bearded brotherhood is more interested in members’ willingness to pitch in and represent the club in honorable ways. “It’s more about your heart than your beard,” Johnny Awesome claims.
Shaping the Growth
Even though some beard clubs have been around for generations, Cape Beard is setting the bar for redefining what and who beard clubs are today. Challenge coins and their ensuing coin challenges are popular in the military, and Cape Beard has developed a challenge coin of their own, the likes of which are becoming popular practices emerging in beard clubs across the United States. Each coin is stamped with a unique numeric identifier and is presented to prospective members as a sign of initiation. A coin must be earned through means of support, participation, and enthusiasm for the club; it shows achievement. Apart from proving a proud identity, the coins are revealed at events—all members participate—and the man who displays his coin last is required to pay a penalty. The club has issued 22 honorary coins to those who aren’t necessarily members, but have more than proved their loyalty. Honorary coins can be for venues, business owners, musicians, photographers, and the supporting Beardsmen of other clubs.
A Full Beard
This club is made of all walks of life. Young, old, men with nicknames like Master Splinter and Dr. Whiskey Wolf, and veterans seeking follicle freedom, these men are blue collar, grit-filled originals. The camaraderie between the beards is heartfelt and frank. These men typically refer to each other as “brothers” and they are all about the hug. “It’s about brotherhood. It’s about the family we build and the family we already have and connecting the community to make our families bigger,” Cape Beard secretary Brandon Brown says. The club’s Sergeant of Arms, Tom Diffin says it best: “What we want people to realize is we’re men with character, not a bunch of characters.”
Despite being one of the largest beard and facial hair clubs in North Carolina, Cape Beard is a grassroots group. Their principles are based on group achievement and working on a local level to produce change. They want to create ripples in the waters and encourage community members to make waves by contributing and taking action for Fayetteville and the surrounding areas.
Club member Mike Eitner states, “It’s what you can bring to the table.” And while the club aims to continue to grow and raise money, what they enjoy most is cultivating an entertaining atmosphere and providing growth for Fayetteville and the surrounding areas.
Members are humble in their approach in giving back every dime that they bring in. They also take an unassuming pride in influencing other beard clubs to break the stigma attached to them and offer affluence in unique ways. “We’re the poorest nonprofit in the world and that’s okay because we are about generating synergy and giving back,” Eitner explains. “Our actions speak louder than our words, and that’s coming from a bunch of loud, bearded misfits. Everyone is looking for a way to give back and a place to fit in. Why not give back to Cumberland County where there is a need and kids who are here that will directly benefit from it?” Johnny Awesome says, simply, “We do it is because we can.”
Calendar of Events
After Autism spectrum disorder hit home for several of the members, Cape Beard elected to host its inaugural Pig Pickin’ in 2012, raising $2,100 for the cause. Now in its sixth year, this family-friendly event is the heart of Cape Beard. In May, the club raked in upwards of $13,000 from sponsors, donations, and sales from cooking over 1,000 pounds of pork. All money made went to The Autism Society of Cumberland County.
Adding to their calendar of events, Cape Beard hosts its annual “Bearded Beauties” pageant (complete with a swimsuit, talent, and evening wear competition) helping to raise $16,400 from this year’s event benefitting KidsPeace. The club hosts holds several other events: “Show Us Your Cans” (proceeds and provisions benefiting Second Harvest Food Bank), “Dunk-a-Beard” (proceeds going towards Chambers of Hope), and finally “Beardtoberfest” (a beard and mustache competition aiding the Karen Chandler Trust). Club member Doug Cameron says, “If you need to do something with your time and means, there’s no better crowd than Cape Beard.”
The next time you spot lengthy magnitudes of facial hair, think twice before you label the look as unruly or peculiar. These might be the men that are defining the core of Fayetteville, in the most prestigious way possible. For more information about Cape Beard: Follicles of Freedom including upcoming meetings, events, and how you can help visit their website at www.capebeardfof.com or find them on Facebook.