PEMBROKE — Twenty-three-year-old Ernest Bethel is fighting breast cancer — one Twitter follower at a time.
Bethel, a senior at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, has partnered with his school’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion for his Dollar-per-Follower Twitter Campaign. For every follower @UNCPODI gets before midnight Friday, Bethel will donate a dollar of his own money to The Pretty in Pink Foundation.
The Pretty in Pink Foundation will then donate the entire sum to a single breast cancer patient from its Adopt A Champion program, which helps people with their medical bills. Helen, an 82-year-old Robeson County woman who declined to give her last name, is battling breast cancer for the second time.
The campaign isn’t just close to Bethel’s wallet, it’s close to his heart.
“My family has been affected by it on my mother’s side really heavily,” he said.
His Aunt Joy’s diagnosis hit him particularly hard.
“She was a teacher,” he said. “She really touched a lot of people.”
About two years ago, her condition deteriorated.
“We had Thanksgiving at their place and everyone got to speak to her,” Bethel said. “When I walked in, I couldn’t even look at her.”
After his aunt passed away, Bethel knew he wanted to get involved with fighting the disease.
Through his Broadcast courses at UNCP, he learned about corporations using social media to raise money for social good — and it all, well, clicked.
Over the summer Bethel, who is from Durham, worked three jobs — at the ABC Store in Lumberton, Shoe Dept. and McDonalds — to stockpile dollars the campaign. He also took a weekly class.
“I would be in class from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m and then I had to be at the ABC Store from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Then I had to be at McDonalds from 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.,” he said — and that was just Friday’s schedule.
Now that he’s back in school full-time and only working one job, Bethel has kept busy distributing fliers about the program all over UNCP’s campus, dorms and surrounding areas, mostly on foot in order to save gasoline money.
Bethel was hesitant to admit the donation would be coming from his pocket rather than the university’s, saying he wanted others to focus on the cause behind the campaign, not how much money he has or how many man-hours he logged. So he asked UNCP’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion to be the technological face of the project and post tweets about it.
Instead of following @UNCPODI on Twitter, supporters can post a photo of one of the fliers on Instagram or a post a status containing the flier’s text on Facebook.
He is prepared to donate as much as $1,000 of his savings; as of Thursday morning, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion had 679 followers.
“When I first thought of this idea, people didn’t believe in it,” he said. “If you have a dream or a goal and someone doesn’t believe, don’t take it as hate, take it as they haven’t experienced what you’re trying to do yet.”
Bethel, who hopes to make a career out of projects like the Twitter drive, is already planning his next venture — donating three desktops computers he purchased at The University of North Carolina surplus store to The Boys and Girls Club of Robeson County.