In order to raise awareness for mental health during COVID-19, two YU students and a professional ice hockey player have partnered together and created a social media campaign featuring athletes from across the globe called the “Celly Forward Challenge.” Eli Jonah Karls (SSSB ‘22), creator of The Daily Wiz, and graphic designer Ari Solomon (SSSB ‘22) established the initiative alongside professional ice hockey player Joe Veleno, a prospect of the Detroit Red Wings currently playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League.
The CellyForward Challenge has participating athletes and celebrities post videos on Instagram explaining the importance of the CellyForward Challenge, encouraging donations to mental health organizations and spreading awareness on mental illness. These figures capitalize on their fame to spread their message to wide-ranging audiences. Each athlete offers a prize of their choice to one random user who meets the qualifications; in order to qualify for a prize, a fan must first follow the CellyForward Challenge page on Instagram, like the video post for which contest they want to enter, tag three friends in the comments, repost the video of the athlete or influencer’s giveaway on their story and tag @cellyforwardchallenge. It is free to enter, but donations are recommended and can be made through the CellyForward Challenge website.
The initial planning for the challenge began nearly a month and a half prior to its launch during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-founders Karls and Solomon, who are also chavrusas (learning partners) in Rabbi Yehuda Willig’s shiur, were no strangers to social media marketing before creating CellyForward. Karls has experience with social media content creation from his series The Daily Wiz which first released a video on Jan. 28, 2020. Solomon has experience in sports graphic designing, social media and working on projects for numerous professional athletes. Karls and the 20-year-old hockey star Veleno first met in high school in Montreal, Canada. Since then, Karls remained close friends with Veleno and has given him guidance in bolstering his social media platform.
In describing the origins of the CellyForward Challenge, Solomon said, “Watching my community and friends suffering from the emotional and psychological effects of the coronavirus took a big toll on me and I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people who suffered losses and then just faded away into the background as the next person got sick. Eli, Joe and I wanted to do something using our combined skills and platforms to help the world on a broader scale so we used our passion for helping others to put our ideas into action.”
Solomon handled the graphics for each luminary and created the website while Karls managed the Instagram page and video production with his filmmaker Fabeeha K. Lodhi. Veleno reached out to hundreds of public personalities to recruit athletes for the launch of the challenge. After many hours of discussion and planning, often reaching 3 a.m, the CellyForward Challenge was introduced with half a dozen athletes posting their challenge videos. There are currently 14 athletes featured on the page with more expected to participate in the near future.
Some examples of the prizes being offered are a signed hockey stick by Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks (the third overall pick of the NHL 2019 draft), a gift card towards Akil Thomas of the L.A. Kings’ personal apparel company and a signed baseball from minor league pitching prospect Alex Katz, in addition to a gift card to his custom cleats company.
The CellyForward Challenge has reached over 40,000 Instagram users since its inception. Some of the top athletes involved are Nick Suzuki of the Montreal Canadians, Aidan Dudas of the L.A. Kings and Cody Glass of the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Additional famous personalities and social media influencers who are involved are Jesse Pollock from the Candian Sports Channel The Sports Network, Canadian Tennis Star Charlotte Robillard-Millette, YouTube Hockey Spoofer On the Bench and Canadian National Athlete and Hockey Trainer Pavel Barber. The NHL featured the Cellyforward Challenge on its official website on May 26.
Eli Jonah Karls said he thinks the challenge is important because he “realized communities are mostly focusing on the problems of today with all of the death and illness, but... are forgetting about the long-term damage of tomorrow.” According to Karls, “the mental and psychological damages caused by COVID-19 are only beginning and we need to fight with the same ferocity as we are using against the physical virus.”
In addition to spreading awareness, the challenge encourages donations to organizations that help battle mental health such as Mental Health America, The National Alliance On Mental Illness, Anxiety and Depression Association of America and OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services.
“A ‘celly’ is short for ‘celebration’ and is used to describe an athlete's celebration after scoring a goal. However, it’s more than that. It’s a moment of euphoric intensity, infused with joy and excitement as a result of succeeding in a long and hard-fought battle with every ounce of strength that you have,” said Veleno, who scored 11 goals with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins this season. “Right now, we are in the first period of our battle. We have a long way to go until we defeat the virus, but we will keep fighting and moving forward towards a better tomorrow until the final buzzer when we will be able to ‘celly’ together as we can declare complete victory after recovering from the damage caused by COVID-19.”
Photo Caption: The Celly Forward Challenge
Photo Credit: Celly Forward Challenge