Melville teen Jordan Belous is at it again — the 17-year-old has launched a “Heart of Gold” campaign to raise money to be used for pediatric cancer research, and so far more than 500 schools have signed on nationwide.
Belous mails participating schools paper hearts lined with gold. Each student is supposed to decorate and write their name on a heart and give a suggested donation of $2 — and the school is then supposed to post the hearts in their school, take photos and post them on social media with #whippediatriccancer.
“It’s kids helping kids,” says Belous, whom most people call JJ. “This past year I’ve met so many kids who are fighting for their life and struggling to find something that will work after chemo, radiation and immunotherapy.”
The collected donations will be sent to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. So far, Belous has sent out more than 250,000 gold hearts to the schools here on Long Island and as far away as California, Texas and Alaska. Several schools in Canada and Malaysia have also requested hearts. Gold is the official color of pediatric cancer, and September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which is why Belous launched the campaign now.
Albany Avenue School in Farmingdale is one of the participants. Lauren Chirco, 34, a stay-at-home mother, has a daughter, Olivia, 8, who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia when she was 3. She went through six months of intense chemotherapy and is now in remission and in third grade at the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade elementary school.
“When I saw Jordan came up with this campaign, I brought it to my PTA board and principal,” Chirco says. She’s handed out the hearts and the school sent a letter home to parents explaining the effort. “Our mission is to line the halls with the hearts,” she says.
This isn’t Belous’ first fundraising campaign. In August 2015, Belous launched her original #WhipPediatricCancer campaign, urging groups and individuals to post videos of themselves dancing to the song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silentó and donate to Sloan-Kettering. Belous hoped to raise at least $10,000; donations through Belous’ whippediatriccancer.org website now tally more than $43,000, she says.
“We are so inspired by Jordan’s ongoing efforts through the ‘Heart of Gold’ program, and are truly grateful for her partnership as we work to find a cure for pediatric cancer,” says Andrea Morris, development coordinator at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
When Belous started her Whip Pediatric Cancer Facebook page last year, she used to personally respond to every follower. Now, it isn’t possible. She is up to more than 47,000 followers; her video post announcing the Heart of Gold campaign, for instance, got 4,600 likes, 1,540 shares and 169 comments.
Belous, now a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills, gets help for her efforts from her mom, Victoria, a cancer survivor, and her dad, Seth, whose company, Flexible Systems in Hauppauge, donated the funds for the hearts and the postage.
“Even if they give nothing, it’s making them aware,” Victoria Belous says.
In addition to fundraising, every week JJ visits Memorial Sloan-Kettering to help entertain kids going through inpatient and outpatient treatment there. “We play, we get our nails done, we go out to get pizza,” JJ says. “If they’re in the hospital, we bring toys.” She’s also volunteered during the past two summers at a camp for kids with pediatric cancer.
Jacqueline York, who lives near Bend, Oregon, started following the Whip Pediatric Cancer Facebook page after her daughter Charlotte, now 4, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2015. When they had to travel to Manhattan for treatment earlier, and were staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Manhattan for several months, JJ would visit Charlotte.
“We were in a different, new city and it was nice to feel like there was someone there,” York says. “She gets on the floor with the kids and plays with them. She just makes them feel cared about.”
Charlotte loves JJ and always asks to see her, York says. “I feel like when I was a senior or a junior in high school, I was not concerned with sick children or trying to make things better,” York says. “To help brighten her day, I think it’s huge.”
She’s also a fan of the Heart of Gold campaign, and says her family members in New Mexico and Texas are implementing it at their schools.
This month, JJ and Victoria traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in CureFest, a rally to urge the U.S. government to designate more funding for pediatric cancer research. JJ also visited Manhattan for “Times Square Goes Gold” and was invited to speak at Suffolk County’s Dennison Building in Hauppauge when it was lit up in gold to recognize Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month.
Belous is applying to colleges, and she is looking at programs that will help her meet her goal of becoming a Child Life Specialist. Child Life Specialists work with pediatric cancer patients to keep them entertained and happy throughout their illness and treatment.
Belous says she hopes that the Heart of Gold campaign will become an annual event during September. “My goal is to make ‘Going Gold’ part of the back-to-school vocabulary,” she says.