Kick by soccer kick, turning my purpose into action for St. Jude

Juggling, in the soccer sense, is a simple skill to learn but a hard one to master. St. Jude supporter Hollis Belger has not only mastered it, kicking her way to a personal best 4,202 consecutive juggles, she has turned her soccer passion into a much bigger purpose: helping the children at St. Jude. She has raised raised $420,000 and counting.

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Juggling, in the soccer sense, is a simple skill to learn but a hard one to master. St. Jude supporter Hollis Belger has not only mastered it, kicking her way to a personal best 4,202 consecutive juggles, she has turned her soccer passion into a much bigger purpose: helping the children at St. Jude. She has raised raised $420,000 and counting.

Hollis Belger

I was a 9-year-old California girl who loved soccer and was pretty good at juggling — you know, keeping the ball in the air using mostly just your feet but never your hands.

What’s that have to do with helping kids with cancer more than 2,000 miles away at St. Jude?

A lot, as my story will show. At my mom’s suggestion I started Juggling for Jude, a small fundraiser with a simple premise: I’d juggle a soccer ball in return for donations to St. Jude. It would give me a chance to do what I loved, while also supporting sick children I’d probably never even meet.

Then I met a few. My second summer of juggling, I met Kayla, who was still fighting brain cancer and struggling with the side effects of treatment. We were just a few months apart in age and had a mutual friend. We hit it off — a friendship was born and my desire to fundraise, my devotion to St. Jude, had deepened.

Then I met Chandler when I was 12 and visiting St. Jude to receive an award for my fundraising. He was 18 and, like Kayla, was treated for brain cancer. He had such an amazing sense of humor, and when we were speakers for St. Jude at a big event, he was so inspirational.

And I met C.J., who has a rare type of leukemia. He’s just 5, but we bonded over soccer. He loves the sport as much as I do.

Along the way, that 9-year-old girl with a gift for juggling became this 15-year-old who has found her purpose in the world. The little fundraising project that started the summer before fifth grade has brought in $420,000. It’s grown in scope — speaking engagements, juggling and skills clinics, sales of a special Juggling for Jude ball, and local, national and even international media appearances, all for the cause of St. Jude.

The COVID-19 virus may have slowed my efforts, but it hasn’t stopped them. My parents have a small business that’s been closed since mid-March because of the pandemic. But I’m still doing what I can, from virtual juggling lessons to a social media video encouraging people to follow my lead of putting money I’d otherwise be spending at the movies or out with friends into a jar for St. Jude.

As I said in one post: #ChildhoodCancer doesn’t shelter in place. @stjude needs our support more than ever!

I hope I can be an example for my generation on how our passion can become purpose. Every single young person has something they enjoy: arts and crafts, dancing, soccer juggling, singing, writing, basketball, running, caring for animals, public speaking. These activities can all become a way of giving back. 

When I speak to groups of kids or teens about being philanthropic, my message always starts and ends with what I do for St. Jude. I like to share how I started small and now have a reachable goal of $500,000.

The method is pretty straightforward. Like juggling, it will take focus, determination and a lot of grit. But anybody can do it.

- Start with a passion.

- Choose a cause you love. (Mine came by way of my mom, who as a small girl saw TV commercials for St. Jude and encouraged her own parents to donate.)

- Get an adult to help you get it off the ground. (I benefited from entrepreneurial-minded parents. Also, my mom is a psychologist and says she introduced me to the concept of empathy earlier than some parents might.)

- Think small at first.

- Don’t worry about money too much — awareness is just as important.

- Celebrate small successes without trying to grow too quickly.

- Make use of social media, especially during these times of social distancing.

Sometimes I get letters from patients and parents I’ve never met, thanking me for what I do. I also receive notes from soccer clubs telling me they’re doing a Juggling for Jude challenge in their state, or from schools around the Bay Area where I have spoken, telling me they're contributing to my cause. These all increase my motivation to continue.

But what motivates me the most is when I interact with patients and their families, or when I hear about the amazing work at St. Jude, including all of the advances going on there, because it keeps me excited and is also a way I can motivate supporters.

As long as there are patients at St. Jude who need it, I want to help.

It may seem like a lot for a young person to take on. But don’t worry. I know a thing or two about juggling.

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