By Andrew Wroblewski
After exceeding her donations goal in a little over a month, a Melville teenager is challenging celebrities to dance the “whip” and “nae nae” for her viral fundraising campaign benefiting pediatric cancer research.
Jordan Belous, 16, started the #WhipPediatricCancer campaign Aug. 17 to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and raise money for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Thousands, from as far as Australia and the United Kingdom and a close as the Huntington township, have since joined in by filming themselves dancing along to rapper Silentó’s smash-hit song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).”
As of Monday, Belous said she’s raised $11,430, surpassing her original goal of $10,000.
Now, Belous has set her sights on raising $20,000, “I think we can definitely go past that milestone,” she said.
But to reach it, she’s attempting to recruit celebrities like TV personality Ellen DeGeneres, singer Taylor Swift and even Silentó.
“That’s really the dream,” Belous said of having DeGeneres join the campaign. “I think that she would be the perfect candidate. She’s a celebrity, so she would raise awareness. She has a lot of followers, a lot of fans. And she likes to dance and she likes kids.” Belous planned to mail a letter to DeGeneres this week. She was also exploring way to reach Swift and has reached out to Silentó’s producer.
But celebrities, or anybody else for that matter, needn’t wait on a personally mailed letter before joining in. In fact, “It’s easy, fun and it doesn’t matter if you’re 3 or 83,” she added.
Anybody can do it in just four steps.
Step one: dancers record themselves throwing their fists forward (“the whip”) and then raising those hands to the sky while taking a step back (the “nae nae”). Step two: participants post the video to social media with the hashtag #WhipPediatricCancer. Step three: others are tagged in the post to encourage more videos and/or donations. Step four: the word is spread to keep awareness up and the donations coming.
The viral structuring of the campaign is modeled after the ALS Association’s “ice bucket challenge,” which made waves in 2014. Belous operates all of the campaign’s social media accounts and recruited her father, Seth, of Hauppauge-based IT company Flexible Systems, to create the campaign’s website (WhipPediatricCancer.org).
“Without social media, this wouldn’t have spread through just word of mouth,” Belous, a junior at Half Hollow Hills High School East, said.
Raising money and awareness for pediatric cancer research is a part of Belous’ life, largely because her mother, Victoria, is a cancer survivor.
“She started at a very young age and now it’s just part of who she is,” Victoria, 48, said of her daughter.
Belous was 3 years old when her mother was diagnosed as an adult with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer typically found in children. Victoria was treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering and Belous credits the people there for saving her mother’s life.
Ever since she turned 7, Belous has used the experience as motivation to help exterminate pediatric cancer.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate, it’s happening everywhere,” she said. “This is all that I know. I really want to make a difference in kids’ lives. It’s always been a passion of mine.”
Belous has worked with Northport’s Spencer Reid Foundation and Warrior’s Odyssey, a pair of nonprofits focusing on pediatric cancer. This past summer, she was a counselor for Sunrise Day Camp in Wheatley Heights, a free camp for children with cancer and their siblings. That’s where she was inspired to begin the #WhipPediatricCancer campaign.
“I had 3-and-a-half-year-old campers and they were whipping and nae naeing all summer,” she said. “That was the moment that I realized that I had to do this.”
Memorial Sloan Kettering, a 131-year-old treatment and research center, is thrilled she did.
Nina Pickett, administrator of pediatrics at Memorial Sloan Kettering, applauded Belous’ efforts and said that the teen has the cancer center’s “undying gratitude.” Pickett was also thrilled by the idea of adding a celebrity’s face to the campaign.
“A little bit of time goes a long way,” Pickett said. “They have a bigger audience and this is about awareness, this is about the need for kids to have support.”
As she awaits responses to her celebrity challenges, Belous said she has no plans to slow down her campaign, even as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (September) comes to an end.
“The kids’ battles aren’t over,” she said. “We’re going to keep ‘whipping’ until there’s a cure.”