Chris Kennedy is a professional golfer on the minor-league West Florida Tour. The 26-year-old has won three times already this year and leads the money list with $18,250 earned in 24 starts.
“It’s been a good year,” he says. “Things are starting to click a little bit. I’m starting to figure out how to play this game.”
That's nice for his burgeoning career, but it doesn't account for how he became one of the founding fathers of the Internet’s latest charitable phenomenon.
No, for that we must trace the circuitous and fortuitous route of a single $100 donation and how social media has turned it into $22 million and counting.
Just over a month ago, Kennedy’s trainer, James Whatmore, was assigned to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge. A fad rapidly sweeping the nation, it consisted of a person pouring ice water over his head, then passing on the challenge to someone else. It was not only harmless, but philanthropic. Anyone who failed to complete the challenge in 24 hours was required to make a donation to their favorite charity. Even those who completed it often made a contribution.
Whatmore doused himself in ice water and passed it on to Jon Bullas, Kennedy’s swing coach. Then Bullas passed it on to Kennedy. On July 14, Kennedy recorded video of himself taking the Ice Bucket Challenge. He then called out three others, including his wife’s cousin, Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband, Anthony, is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – more commonly known as ALS.
Kennedy then kicked in $100 to help fight a disease which so far has no cure.
Meanwhile, Senerchia completed her challenge and posted the video to Facebook, retaining a connection to ALS with a donation to the non-profit organization that she and Anthony started to help underprivileged families who are suffering from the disease.
Residents of their Pelham, N.Y., neighborhood rallied around the Senerchias. Anthony’s three brothers completed the challenge. Old high school teachers. Parents, kids, entire families.
“Everybody came together in our community,” Senerchia beams. “We couldn’t keep up with all the videos.”
Kennedy’s wife, Ariana, started a YouTube channel and had about 400 videos collected after a single week. More and more people added to it each day.
Through it all, none of them changed the charity. They all kept donating to ALS and spreading the word about a deadly disease.
Not long after, these videos started clogging the social media pages of Pat Quinn, an ALS sufferer who has many connections in that community. He passed it on to Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball captain, who in turn passed it on to various athletes and celebrities.
And that’s where the Ice Bucket Challenge really took off. That’s where it officially became the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
That’s how everyone from LeBron James to Oprah Winfrey to Justin Bieber - even Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy together - has taken to pouring icy water over their heads in the name of charity.
That’s how a largely underfunded cause has turned into the fastest growing charitable campaigns in the world right now.
That’s how a $100 donation has morphed into more than $22 million in just over a month.
“The real story here is that donations are up 766 percent, which is crazy,” Kennedy says. “It’s been a little overwhelming, but obviously we’re all very proud of how it started and what it’s gotten to. It’s going to fund some research and help families. Hopefully it will help a lot of people. It’s been crazy, but in a good way.”
“It’s much needed attention for ALS,” Jeanette agrees. “I feel like it’s getting recognition that it desperately needs. We need more funding for research and we need to find a cure.”
That’s not all the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has done.
Anthony has been fighting ALS for 11 years now, which is two or three times longer than most who are diagnosed with the disease are usually given to live.
He can still walk, but he needs a wheelchair when going longer distances. He can still talk, but his speech is impaired.
This latest craze has not only kept Anthony up past midnight lately, clicking all over the Internet to find the newest challenges, it’s given him a new lease on life.
“He’s always been kind of quiet and to himself,” his wife explains. “But he said he actually feels more comfortable going out and sitting in a restaurant now, because everyone in town knows about his disease. It’s not just about the money. He feels more comfortable in his own skin. He doesn’t feel like he has to hide from people.”
This isn’t just a story about how $100 has become $22 million and counting. It’s a story about raising awareness for a deadly disease and how an entire world can feel like one tight-knit community when it comes together for a cause.
As Jeanette Senerchia says, “I know people are like, 'We’re so tired of this thing.' But at the end of the day, we’re raising money and getting the word out. If one person learns about it, then it’s a win.”
Donations to The Anthony Senerchia Jr. Charitable Foundation (a non-profit foundation) can be sent to: 417 Ninth Avenue. Pelham, NY 10803. The Ice for Ant Senerchia YouTube channel can be found here.