Her back is sore, there’s sweat dripping down her eyelashes, but when Hollis Belger is in the zone juggling her trusty “record” soccer ball, she says she is laser focused on one thing: helping children being treated for cancer.
“I’m in 60 minutes, and I just always picture every St. Jude warrior, every single time,” says Hollis. “I fight, because of all of the operations they have to go through, and suddenly, my back doesn’t ache and sweat doesn’t bother me. I just keep going, because 1,000 more juggles could mean $100 more in donations, and that is all worth it.”
The Larkspur, California 17-year-old started playing soccer as a child, but when Hollis learned about pediatric cancer and what kids were facing in battling for their health, her athleticism transformed into a skill for good.
“I started juggling because I joined a competitive soccer team when I was 8, and juggling helped with control. My mom first introduced the idea of helping pediatric cancer patients; she thought it was important I knew kids just like me had their lives turned upside down. They weren’t allowed to play sports or play with friends growing up, something I thought was important.”
Hollis, a high school senior, has since kicked her way to raising more than $575,000 in donations from thousands of people, and her efforts to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have inspired countless others, her 2020 global soccer juggling challenge attracting participants from six continents.
“I started to juggle for a bigger purpose. I knew St. Jude treated kids for free. That really resonated with me. I fell in love [with their mission because] they focused on hope and optimism. All your child should worry about is getting better, and not the expense of the treatment.”
Hosting her Juggling for Jude fundraiser throughout the year, Hollis participates in events and raises awareness through speaking engagements at schools, corporations, even meeting the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. Her juggling personal best stands at 7,157 juggles, which amounts to over 1 hour and 15 minutes of consecutive juggles, all in the name of serving as an advocate for children with cancer and their families.
“The second summer of Juggling for Jude, I met a girl named Kayla. We lived about 20 minutes away from each other, and she was the same age as me. She was being treated for Medulloblastoma, a form of brain cancer. She was very recently out of the hospital, and I will literally never forget meeting her, because I saw cancer had a face and a name. It was a person, and she was my friend. For us to talk about normal things: sports, our school, our favorite Disney princesses, knowing in the back of my mind that she’d endured so much and I was completely healthy, all this juggling, the emails, writing blogs, it was all, it’s all still for her and other St. Jude warriors I’ve befriended since. From that moment on, I was going to juggle until no child has to worry about cancer.”
Kayla has been cancer free for many years now, and Hollis has become recognizable across the globe for her volunteerism – known as “the juggling girl,” because of her dedication to changing the future for kids with cancer. Calling Hollis one of the organization’s most impactful volunteer fundraisers, Emily Schlesinger, a philanthropic advisor for St. Jude, says Hollis is changing life for patients and is a service role model for others.
“Research at St. Jude does truly change the world,” says Emily. “The money we use to do that comes from the generosity of the public. The fact that she’s personally raised awareness of our mission for so many, and spread awareness about how [St. Jude] has changed lives for children diagnosed and will continue to do so going into the future. By following her passion and talent, [Hollis] has changed the lives of young people who can see themselves in her. She can take something like soccer juggling and make a difference for kids with cancer. [Now others think], I can take something I’m passionate about and make a difference with something close to my heart. Follow your passion, and let’s change the world.”
Forming friendships with St. Jude patients who know she is juggling for them, Hollis is using her heart and feet to make a difference and inspire others to give back to their own communities.
“Anything can be used to make a difference. I never thought kicking a soccer ball a bunch of times would attract the people, the donors, the money that it did. But when you’re doing it for a greater cause, something bigger than yourself, people will be inspired and they will give. Never underestimate your ability to make a difference, no matter who you are.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Hollis Belger? Find local volunteer opportunities.