The COVID-19 crisis has inspired longtime Mass General community fundraiser Mike Slonina to turn to social media for a worthy cause.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit Massachusetts, longtime Massachusetts General Hospital community fundraiser Mike Slonina made the quick decision to pivot. For the past nine years, Mike has managed A Shot for Life, a nonprofit that organizes basketball events to raise funds for William T. Curry, MD, and his brain tumor research at the Mass General Cancer Center. But when COVID-19 forced him to postpone his organization’s signature Battle of the Badges event, Mike made the selfless call to redirect his efforts to fundraise for Mass General’s COVID-19 response. He has since started the viral #AShotForLife Challenge – a social media campaign that has raised over $2,000 for Mass General’s Emergency Response Fund.

Making A Shot for Life

Mike’s commitment to the fight against cancer began in 2010, when his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor was deeply embedded in her brain, and doctors could not safely perform a biopsy to give her a definitive prognosis. Searching for a way to process this devastating news, then 17-year-old Mike drove straight to his high school gym, grabbed a basketball and shot free throws for hours.

“We wanted to create something that would give people the gift of control, but also bring joy and show people what they can do for the world.”

Mike knew that he had to find a way to do something to honor his mom and help raise awareness of the disease. He came up with the idea to organize A Shot for Life – a 24-hour basketball shooting marathon – to benefit the work of his mom’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Curry.

A few weeks before the event, Mike’s mom received the fantastic news from Dr. Curry that her tumor was benign. Mike was relieved. Still, knowing that many other patients would not be as lucky, he committed to carry on with A Shot for Life.

In April 2011, Mike hosted the first A Shot for Life event, which raised more than $17,000 for brain tumor research at Mass General and gained the attention of the national media. Today, A Shot for Life has grown to include a high school free throw competition, a 24-hour basketball tournament known as the Gauntlet and an annual Battle of the Badges game between the Boston Fire and Police Departments. In total, Mike has raised more than $100,000 to support innovative brain tumor research at the Mass General Cancer Center.

Pivoting at the Right Time

The A Shot for Life team was in the midst of organizing their fourth annual Battle of the Badges game when their plans were derailed by COVID-19. Like so many other dedicated community fundraisers, they made the difficult decision to postpone their event until it could be held safely.

Again Mike decided to look for a way to channel this negative situation into something positive. He came up with the idea for the virtual #AShotForLife Challenge. The premise was simple: ask friends to share on social media a video of themselves making a basketball shot, tag it with #AShotForLife and make a donation of $1 to support Mass General’s Emergency Response Fund.

“There’s a powerless feeling you get when things like this happen,” Mike says. “We wanted to create something that would give people the gift of control, but also bring joy and show people what they can do for the world.”

Going Viral for a Cause

On March 28, Mike took to Instagram and posted a video challenging his followers to respond with a shot and a donation. A Shot for Life’s network answered in a big way. By the end of the day, 53 participants had made their donations and uploaded videos to Instagram and Twitter.

“It was tough to switch from fundraising for cancer, but the world needed us to step up here.”

A Shot for Life has since raised over $2,000 for the Emergency Response Fund – and shows no signs of slowing down. The #AShotForLife Challenge has reached all corners of the athletic community, from middle schoolers to members of the UConn Women’s Basketball team. Participants are getting creative, shooting everything from basketballs into hoops to golf balls into trash bins.

But Mike’s favorite videos aren’t the amazing trick shots submitted by athletes – they’re the videos uploaded by Mass General nurses shooting trash into buckets at the end of their shifts. For him, seeing people on the front lines who will benefit directly from the #AShotForLife Challenge is incredibly powerful. “It was tough to switch from fundraising for cancer, but the world needed us to step up here,” Mike says. “The reality of what we’re raising money for is very important.”

Care providers across Mass General are thankful for A Shot for Life’s efforts. “So many of us in the Cancer Center are shifting our focus to care for patients with COVID-19,” Dr. Curry says. “I’m so grateful A Shot for Life decided to step up and respond to this pandemic right along with us.”

To join A Shot for Life in supporting Mass General’s COVID-19 response efforts, please make a donation to the Emergency Response Fund.