When 10-year-old Hewitt Sluyter was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, his family was met with a wave of support.
In May, Christen and Jared Sluyter received the news that every parent dreads: their 10-year-old son, Hewitt, had developed a rare form of brain cancer.
“We took Hewitt in for a check-up for migraines, and they found a baseball sized tumor,” remembers Chad Kahana, Hewitt’s uncle. “He was in brain surgery four days later. So that was a huge shock to us.”
It was a terrifying time for the Sluyter family, with the blow of the diagnosis compounded by the financial stress of Hewitt’s medical bills and the cost of traveling interstate for life-saving treatment.
So when family friend Scotti Lechuga learned of Hewitt’s illness, she leapt to support the Sluyters. She had a video telling Hewitt’s story made and set up a GoFundMe to collect donations that could help to cover the family’s medical expenses. Lechuga – who, like Hewitt’s parents, is a keen cyclist – also had the idea of rallying together the wider cycling community. She decided to stage a bike challenge event, where other cyclists could register to ride as many miles as possible in support of Hewitt on the June 21 summer solstice. She called the event Do It For Hewitt.
The power of social media
Kahana, who has a background in social media, stepped in to look after Do It For Hewitt’s online presence. He quickly set up a Linktree – which allows you to link everything in one place – and before long, the fundraiser had gone viral.
“We shared the video and it just exploded,” he remembers.
Within a day, their fundraiser had received over 10,000 shares. They had initially set a GoFundMe goal of USD$20,000, but quickly passed that.
The more people heard about Do It For Hewitt, the more they wanted to help out. The local municipality in their hometown of Springdale, Arkansas, loaned Do It For Hewitt a pavilion to help them raise funds on the day of the bike challenge. Corporate supporters came on board. Some cyclists got their rides sponsored, while others in the cycling community donated their winnings from tournaments over the summer.
“It was just a chain reaction of all these people showing up to help,” Kahana says.
Together they raised another $20,000 on the day of the bike challenge and have now collected a total of over $50,000 for Hewitt and his parents – all in just two months.
“Hewitt was so excited to see all the miles that people were contributing,” Kahana says. “And I think for our family, it was amazing to see the way that our community stepped up in a really incredible way. I mean, my brother-in-law was going to pick up nausea medication for [Hewitt] and the pharmacist said, ‘Hey, aren’t you the dad from that cycling family?’ There were just people all over who knew our story.”
Linktree and GoFundMe empowered communities to act
Kahana is deeply grateful to the people of Springdale and the cycling community who banded together to help Hewitt. His advice to others who might be looking to launch a fundraiser of their own is to “share your story in a way that people are going to be able to understand” by communicating simply and effectively. That’s why he decided to use Linktree to bring together Do It For Hewitt’s online presence.
“I knew that we needed something to coordinate the information across all the channels that we’d be using,” Kahana says. “And that was really important for us, because a lot of the people who started reaching out to us at the beginning were just as overwhelmed as we were with how quickly it took off. We wanted to make it easy for anyone to connect with us.”
It also saved Kahana and the other organizers a lot of time once momentum really started to snowball.
When someone made Do It For Hewitt t-shirts to sell as a fundraising device, Kahana just had to pop the link up on Linktree. Or when local community members decided to stage a walk in support of Hewitt, he could quickly add a link to the Facebook event onto Linktree and take it out once the event was done.
“It was just a perfect way for us to organize all the things that were going on and to keep it updated,” Kahana says. “Anytime someone clicked the Linktree, they were seeing the information that was most pertinent to them and the things that they could do right away to support. And I think that’s what was most helpful for us.”
The fact that Linktree enables GoFundMe integration was perfect for team Do It For Hewitt. Adding the GoFundMe to their Linktree was so easy he “didn’t even have to think about it”, Kahana says.
And he knew that the wide brand recognition of GoFundMe was important.
“Everyone knows about GoFundMe,” Kahana says. “It’s something I think people know they can trust, and is set up in a way that it can be transparent so people know where the money is going.”
Hewitt’s journey isn’t over yet
Today, Kahana says, Hewitt is doing well given the circumstances. The surgery to remove the tumor was a success, and he recently underwent radiation treatment away from home in Texas – where he stayed at a Ronald McDonald House with his mom and made a lot of friends. He’ll soon begin a six-month course of chemotherapy.
“What we’re hoping is in a year, that he is all done with his treatment and he’s in remission, we can do another event to raise money for a cause like pediatric brain cancer or maybe one of the hospitals that he stayed at,” Kahana says.
But they’re taking things one step at a time.
“Right now, we’re just focusing on his treatment,” Kahana says.
And while the bike challenge may be done, the journey is far from over for Hewitt and his family. “So if anyone would like to make a donation, or even just send an encouraging message, I know it would be appreciated,” Kahana says.