"I look like a criminal," Chris Black jokes as he stands for a photo in his home on Long Neck Point Road on Sunday afternoon.

He's standing alone, looking directly at the camera with a straight face. The flash goes off and the display screen on the camera shows a "mug shot." It won't be used in the paper. While it was the framing of the photo that made it less than desirable to run in this week's edition, Black was referencing his dark beard when he made the crack.

Facial hair is a new look for him, and he's still getting used to it.

The 17-year-old Darien High School senior began sporting the scruff on Nov. 1, as part of a male tradition at DHS: Novembeard -- a month-long effort to grow a big beard. The tradition was instituted by the senior class of 2009, according to Black. Last year, as a junior, he participated in what he referred to as a "dumb, macho tradition," but this year, he hoped to do something bigger.

"Last year, every day, people were like, `Whoa. You look gross. What's the point?'" he said. The only point he could think of at the time was to gauge how much hair he could actually grow on his cheeks and chin as a 16-year-old.

This year, he recruited several of his classmates and teachers to participate in a sort of beard-a-thon, raising money to fight the global water crisis. He asked fellow beard growers to "find generous sponsors ... who pledge to contribute a fixed fee for each day you do not shave."

All the money raised will aid UNICEF's TAP Project, which helps provide clean, accessible water to children around the world. According to the project's Web site, 4,100 children die of water-related diseases each day, and nearly 900 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water.

Each dollar the students raise can provide a child with enough drinking water to last 40 days.

"I thought it would be a good way to give back to the less fortunate. We're really lucky to have clean water and not even have to think about it," Black said.

Black approached the DHS Community Council for permission to hang fliers throughout the school asking classmates to hang up their razors for 30 days, or dip into their wallets to sponsor a friend.

"It's a Simple Question: Are You Man Enough?" the posters read.

Though he will be graduating this May, he said he hopes the Community Council or one of the participating faculty members will carry on the tradition next year, and find a way for female DHS students to become involved.

He's excited about the money the initiative will raise, and the possibility of an annual campaign, but he's also ready to kiss the beard goodbye, he said.

"Cause or not, the griminess of the beard is still there. You can be expected to be made fun of for that," he said. "I don't know if I'm going to be a bearded man when I'm older. I'm counting down the days to Dec. 1."

Based on the pledges he's received so far, his face will raise $382.50, which is enough money to provide a child with drinking water for more than 41 years.

"I'm hoping we'll raise somewhere in the thousands, but even a couple hundred dollars is really significant," he said.

Aki Tas, 18, one of Black's classmates, is also participating in the fundraiser. He estimates that he will raise about $30 by the end of the month -- enough money to bring a child clean water for 1,200 days.

"It was for a good cause, and it shows off my manhood," he said. "The girls love it."

Like Black, he attempted to grow a full beard last year.

"I gave up because of the patchiness and the ridicule. It lasted about one-and-a-half weeks. Then people said I looked disgusting," he said.

Black received similar reactions during his primary -- and patchy -- effort last November.

"Last year, my mom hated it. She reminded me how terrible I looked on a daily basis," he said. "This year, she tells me it looks good. I don't know if that's white lies or what."

For more information about the Global Water Crisis, or UNICEF's TAP Project, visit www.tapproject.org.