Hollis Belger: Juggling for a cure

Melissa Block

Hollis Belger’s heart is pounding. Her eyes are focused as the ball goes up and down, hitting her right cleat and then her left. Everything else disappears as she concentrates solely on the ball’s movement. This is Belger, a Hall Middle School seventh grader, and her soccer ball.

Every morning during the summer, Belger goes to the Redwood football field and juggles her soccer ball in order to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She created her project, called Juggling for Jude, when she was nine with the help of her family and the support from her older sister, Redwood freshman Lyle Belger. Hollis is a passionate soccer player, so she and her mother decided to use her skills to raise money for a cause that she cared about.

Belger was interested in supporting St. Jude hospital in any way she could because she felt a connection to the children her own age who were suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

In 2014 when she first began her project, Belger raised over $32,000 by receiving donations for each consecutive juggle or general donations to support her cause. As the donations poured in, she realized the potential of her cause and decided to expand it into a full-time project. Her mother Allison created a website where supporters were able to donate money online and Hollis could send the money directly to St. Jude.

In the three years since Hollis started her project, she has raised over $107,000 to support St. Jude in finding a cure for cancer.

“Everyone is special and can make a difference. But it’s when you choose to be special and when you choose to make a difference, that’s when you can actually make an impact on the world,” Hollis said during a phone interview.

12 year old Hollis Belger practicing juggling on the Redwood football field.
12 year old Hollis Belger practicing her juggling skills on the Redwood football field.

According to Hollis, Juggling for Jude has changed her perspective on the world around her. In particular, learning about cancer and its effects on children, has made Hollis more grateful for what she has.

Her project has also introduced her to a variety of inspirational children, including Kayla, a 12-year old who suffered from cancer at a very young age and was treated at St. Jude.

“Knowing Kayla has made Hollis that much more passionate about helping St. Jude. She now has a friend who wouldn’t be with us were it not for St. Jude,” Allison said during an email interview.

Hollis hopes that her project will inspire her peers to find a cause that they want to support.

“You definitely need to think small and take it one step at a time. You can’t just rush through if you’re in this for the long haul,” Hollis said.

Hollis’ hard work has gained support from professional soccer players, including Olympic gold medalists Julie Foudy and Kelly O’Hara. They have helped by promoting her message and mentioning Juggling for Jude on social media.

Pictured juggling in front of players from the San Jose Earthquakes. Belger has been invited to various events around the Bay Area to publicize Juggling for Jude.
Pictured juggling in front of players from the San Jose Earthquakes, Belger has been invited to various events around the Bay Area to publicize Juggling for Jude.

Juggling has taken Hollis all around the Bay Area, from the Corte Madera Fourth of July parade to juggling with the San Jose Earthquakes and even to San Francisco’s World Wide Women’s Girls Festival, teaching and inspiring young girls to find their own passions.

According to Hollis, she and her mother spread the word to find people who are interested in her project.

“I do the things that Hollis honestly couldn’t do for herself, like networking with adults in ways that would be very challenging for someone that goes to school to do,” Allison said.

As Hollis gets older she is starting to take over some of those responsibilities and she is learning how to reach out to interested supporters, according to Allison. Hollis will be a freshman at Redwood in the fall of 2018, and she is already planning creative ways to get students involved with her cause. She wants to create a Juggling for Jude club to teach juggling skills and encourage her peers to donate. Hollis currently plays soccer for the Mill Valley Rockers and is also interested in playing at Redwood.

But at the moment, Hollis’ primary goal isn’t networking or reaching out to potential supporters. Instead, she is focusing her attention on breaking her current juggling record of 1,646 juggles, which took over 17 minutes to reach.

“What keeps me motivated is the children at St. Jude’s,” Hollis said. “I think about them all the time when I’m juggling and how they can’t take a break from cancer, so it makes me feel determined to work harder when I hear new stories of someone diagnosed.”