HANCOCK COUNTY — Jen Lucas knows too well the pain that comes from seeing a family member suffer and die from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Her mother died of complications from ALS last April.
So when she sees a group of people who have not been personally affected by the disease raising funds and participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness of ALS, it is special to her.
“It’s really near and dear to us to seeing awareness being raised about the disease,” she said this week as she stood outside McCordsville Elementary School, watching school staff members getting drenched by spray from a fire hose. “It’s a horrible disease with no end in sight for it.”
That’s why people all over the country have been participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, a simple concept that in recent weeks has stormed its way across social media. The challenge is to record yourself getting doused with water and/or ice and posting it to social media, then nominating friends to do the same thing while encouraging them to donate to ALS charities.
From former President George W. Bush to the Colts’ Andrew Luck to Lady Gaga, much of the attention has focused on the famous athletes and celebrities who have taken the challenge. But countless others have recorded themselves on their camera phones getting doused with spine-tingling deluges.
On Thursday, the ALS Association announced that the impromptu campaign has raised nearly $42 million in donations. During the same time period last year the ALS Association received $2.1 million in donations.
In Hancock County, many people are getting in on the action. And the viral ritual is showing no signs of abating. The Greenfield Fire Department, for example, is planning an Ice Bucket Challenge on Monday morning at the downtown fire station.
At the heart of what they’re planning is the same as every other Ice Bucket Challenge nationwide.
“We’re raising money and awareness for ALS,” said firefighter Jeff Dixon, one of the organizers. “And we’re going to challenge the (Greenfield) Police Department.”
The challenge was in full swing in the schools, too.
On Tuesday, the staff at McCordsville Elementary School invited the McCordsville Volunteer Fire Department to improvise a large-scale Ice Bucket Challenge: The teachers stood under an arcing spray from a fire hose to fulfill the challenge.
The phenomenon hit New Palestine in full force once a few New Palestine High School football players took the challenge. They then invited their head coach, Kyle Ralph, to do it. Ralph challenged his staff, who then challenged the school’s administration.
Principal Keith Fessler dumped a bucket of ice and water on his head and then challenged the district’s five principals.
Doe Creek Middle School Principal Jim Voelz accepted his challenge and braced himself to be soaked with three buckets of ice water, courtesy of the middle school’s girls soccer team.
“When I get a challenge, I am going to accept it,” Voelz said. “I think it is important for us to set a positive example for our kids, and I also think it is really cool to see social media used in such a positive way.”
Voelz upped the ante: He challenged Superintendent Lisa Lantrip and Assistant Superintendent Bob Yoder.
At McCordsville Elementary, the group shower in the parking lot got its start when two students challenged Principal Stephanie Miller and the staff. Second-grader Graci Hines and third-grader Austin Evans, spurred on by Graci’s mom, Kristin Turner, persuaded Miller to accept the challenge.
“We’re all about supporting an excellent cause,” Turner said.
Fifth-grade teacher Ashley Schenck helped the participants get prepared.
“(Turner) asked if we could help spread the word, and it sounded like a good idea,” Schenk said.
According to the ALS Association, roughly 30,000 Americans now have ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. People diagnosed with the disorder usually have a life expectancy of two to five years. There is no cure.
For organizations dedicated to supporting research, such as the ALS Association Indiana chapter, the campaign has been awe-inspiring.
“We have been getting a lot of support. It’s amazing that the people in Indiana are so caring and kind,” said the state chapter’s executive director, Cindy Wise.
The ALS Association leads the way in global research, providing assistance for people with ALS through a nationwide network of chapters, coordinating care through certified clinical care centers and fostering government partnerships. The association works to enhance quality of life while searching for new treatments and a cure.
“We’re going to be very strategic about where the money goes,” Wise said. “Currently, we are doing a lot of analyzing of the promising research out there. That’s part of where they’ll look to send that money. It’ll be all about impact. They’ll be looking to make the most impact.”
For some, like Jen Lucas and her family, it’s too late to benefit from the research and medical progress the groundswell of help support. But Lucas still plans to contribute in her own way.
“It warms my heart to see how far it has reached out through social media,” Lucas said. “My best friend just got challenged. And he told me, ‘You’re next.’”
And that’s the how the Ice Bucket Challenge has worked: by spreading knowledge of the disease one gallon at a time.
“A year ago, the country wasn’t talking about ALS. As long as people are talking about ALS, it means the world to us,” Wise said.
Staff writer Kristy Deer contributed to this report.