Guest Opinion: Recall the ice bucket challenge?
They don’t call summer the silly season for nothing. This often carefree time of year is prone to odd crazes that somehow don’t seem to pop up in the depths of winter. Right now it’s Pokemon Go. A few summers ago, it was Carly Rae Jepsen’s pop hit, “Call Me Maybe,” which inspired lip-synched videos by everyone from the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders to the Harvard baseball team.
But there may have been no odd fad more improbable than the one two years ago that spurred millions of people to record videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads. Anyone tagged by a friend had a choice: Either take an arctic shower or donate money to the ALS Association to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the deadly disease nicknamed after baseball legend Lou Gehrig. In practice, most of those who were challenged did both, and then challenged their friends, in a daisy chain of goofy self-abasement.
Elected officials and athletes did it. Maybe you did as well.
All the goofiness paid off. By the time the fad passed, ALS groups around the world had been flooded with $220 million. “In just eight weeks, the U.S. ALS Association, or ALSA, received 13 times as much in contributions as what it had in the whole of the preceding year,” reports James Surowiecki in The New Yorker. The Les Turner ALS Foundation saw donations skyrocket. What’s more, ALSA has seen contributions stay well above the previous level, and the surge apparently didn’t divert funds from other charitable organizations.
The campaign also educated people about a progressive illness that destroys the neurons controlling muscle movements. Victims are robbed of their ability to move, speak and, eventually, breathe. It’s fatal, and there is no cure.
Raising money for such a grave need is good — but seeing that money put to productive use is even better. ALSA now says the funds paid for research that detected a gene that is partly responsible for the disease, opening up new avenues for devising ways to treat the disease.
“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled The ALS Association to invest in Project MinE’s work to create large biorepositories of ALS biosamples that are designed to allow exactly this kind of research and to produce exactly this kind of result,” says the group. Eventually, all this research and data may lead to a cure.
Using the power of social media to stimulate awareness of a deadly scourge, mobilize efforts to tackle it and see those efforts lead to concrete results? It’s enough to give you a warm feeling — not to mention a reason to give again. No ice bucket required.