By: Teresa Dietrich
Sean Nolan is comfortable on camera. During his interview he maintains eye contact with the questioner, doesn’t fumble his answers, and speaks in a steady way indicative of his dreams of becoming a sports broadcaster. And when he speaks about Connecting Champions, his eyes and voice light up with the passion he feels for the organization.
“I’ve learned how just one person’s dream can become such an amazing story… and how giving back can do so much to you as an individual,” he says, hands folded in his lap. Sean was fifteen when he was diagnosed with cancer, an age where, as his father puts it, “we’re just worried about our world and what affects us.” But Sean has a calmness about him that magnifies the strengthening of his spirit that has occurred and that his father, Rich, is so proud to witness.
His friendship with sports broadcaster Joe Block was an incredible way to learn all about the ins and outs of his potential future career, and having a friend with whom he could talk about “everything” was an indispensable part of helping Sean manage the cancer process. But it was also part of an eye opening experience involving those who give back to their community in some way. Rich expresses that “When you’re affected by a disease such as lymphoma I think you really realize what’s going on around you… you become more in tune with life. Sean has become more giving with his time, more thoughtful, and more kind.” Seeing those selfless qualities mirrored in his mentor helped Sean recognize the impact that acting on the impulse to volunteer with others can have.
When Sean was approached by someone hoping he would volunteer to spend time with a boy suffering from a brain tumor, Rich wasn’t sure how his son would react. But Sean leapt at the opportunity to become a mentor in his own way, and when he first met the boy he immediately got down on his level and engaged him in conversation and play. His ability to “get down on the level of anyone” regardless of their differences is what tells Rich that “Whatever Sean decides to do Sean is going to be a success at.” This giving quality was amplified by Sean’s diagnosis as well as his friendship with Joe, and his father believes that “without this journey, that spirit might not have come through in such an immense way.”
This journey and Sean’s relationship with Connecting Champions has opened his heart and his mind in ways that for some people take years or never happen at all. Inspired by his friendship with Joe and his realization of the importance of giving back, Sean believes that “The miracle of life is being able to use my story and my battle to help somebody else.” Sean and his family have been uplifted by their communities throughout this trial and in turn they have become inspired to go to greater lengths, to give not just of their time, but of their hearts.
My experience with Ellen has had a big impact on me. Not only have we explored the law field together; but Ellen has become a close friend. When I was much sicker, and not able to leave the hospital, Ellen would come to my room and we would talk about how each of us were doing and then that would lead to books and magazines she gave me to read. We would discuss what we learned, what we thought was interesting, and then from there, we started to pin point what I was drawn to in the legal community.
Together, we attended a Moot Court at the University of Pittsburgh. A month later, we had the chance to meet the author of a book we just finished reading together, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, a criminal justice lawyer who defends the poor, wrongly accused, and condemned. Not only did we hear him speak at the Robert Morris University Pittsburgh Speaker Series, but I also got to ask him all of my questions with Ellen at a reception and dinner before the event!
All of these experiences I’ve had with Ellen, even during my long stays in the hospital have helped me to have a positive outlook on my cancer treatments. Every time I read a book or article that Ellen sends me, or when we call, or go to an event, I forget about my anxieties and my situation. We are planning out our summer together and I can’t wait!
I appreciate so much Connecting Champions and all they have done for me in fostering this connection between us.
By: Teresa Dietrich
Izzy Tetino has been an important member of the Connecting Champions team since her sophomore year of college when she and her roommate found the Pitt Connecting Champions Club (CCC). For some people, joining this club would have been just a resume booster--but Izzy and Nicole, her roommate, saw the opportunity to affect real change through their participation. Eventually they began running CCC themselves, and through their strong leadership were able to pull together fundraising events, craft nights, and fun outings for some of the kids. They threw a birthday party, went to the zoo, and went pumpkin picking in the fall.
Over the three years she was involved with CCC, Izzy got to know the Connecting Champions employees and founder Sidney. She even became a friendship mentor, and for her capstone graduation project she helped develop novel aspects of Night of Inspiration, creating the Wall of Stories. So when she graduated in December of her senior year, no one was surprised when she became a Connecting Champions intern. Over the sixth months of her internship, Izzy worked tirelessly for the organization, calling it “one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”
Even though she’s since graduated University of Pittsburgh and has moved on to graduate school, studying to become a physician’s assistant, Izzy continues to assist the organization in any way she can. This month she began meeting with Connecting Champions to discuss the year’s Night of Inspiration. We know that with Izzy to help us, Night of Inspiration will continue to be one of the best nights of the year!
By: Teresa Dietrich
Hannah’s personality can be described as “big and funny.” She’s outgoing and friendly, with a wide range of interests that made finding her a specific mentor difficult. But when the decision was made to pair her with Arias, it was immediately obvious how great a decision that was. Hannah is an animal lover capable of sustaining lengthy conversations involving her five pets, especially her frogs Hops and Bob. She’s always willing to help out in the garden or to embark on a cooking adventure, two areas of interest that she shares with Arias.
Although it’s immediately obvious to anyone who meets her how joyful and exuberant she naturally is, when Hannah first met with Connecting Champions in October she was much more subdued and shy and would often fall asleep soon after visitors arrived. But it was clear how much she enjoyed having visitors come and talk and read to her, and the constant attention and care provided by Connecting Champions enabled her to find comfort and familiarity in an environment that originally challenged her. Hannah is again a happy, outgoing girl. Some of her recent adventures include making homemade marshmallows and a trip to Disney World, where she got to meet Winnie the Pooh and his entourage.
During Arias’s most recent visit with her, Hannah was seated animatedly on the bed, excited for whatever games and fun were arriving. The two played several hands of Crazy 8s, one of the many games that keeps Hannah occupied, and were sent into peals of laughter when cans of Silly String were introduced. Hannah is a long ways away from where she initially was after her diagnosis, and it’s clear that her Connecting Champions friendships have played a crucial role in her resilience. Now, she’s looking forward to her peach tree at home bearing fruit for the first time and for the next visit from her friends at Connecting Champions.
By: Teresa Dietrich
Steven is a small and excitable child, his gap-toothed smile frequently lighting up the room. His cheerful attitude appears to perfectly align with that of a child interested in clowns, but when Steven expressed his wish to meet one, he was looking more for horror than laughs. Despite his young age, Steven’s favorite movie is the critically acclaimed IT. Coy, a member of the Connecting Champions team, explains that Steven can frequently be found curled up with his iPad watching YouTube clips from the movie--only the scariest parts, too (however, Steven watches them in Polish, which he does not presently speak).
When Coy told Steven that a clown named Happy Harry had been found and was interested in meeting him, Steven was mildly disappointed. “But where’s my Pennywise?” he asked. Coy carefully explained that, despite Steven’s known penchant for horror, Happy Harry has taken a solemn oath to never frighten a child and wouldn’t even be in full costume the first few times he visited. “We wanted him to understand that James--Happy Harry--is a real person under all that makeup,” Coy said, and Steven’s mother agreed that this would be a good way to introduce a clown to her son.
Although Happy Harry can’t scare Steven, he provides a service even more appealing: making balloon animals. Steven was mollified by the knowledge that he would be in the presence of a balloon master, and by the time the two met he had forgotten his desire to be scared.
The first time they met, James didn’t look much like a clown: he wore jeans and a blue plaid shirt and had opted to bring a regular red clown nose instead of the official clown nose he glues on for performances. In spite of his average appearance, Happy Harry quickly proved himself a capable clown. His gags and magic tricks were all met with brilliant smiles from Steven, who watched enthralled as Happy Harry tore paper into shreds and then shook it out to reveal an untorn paper hat.
When the two got to the balloons, Steven watched as Happy Harry deftly inflated and twisted them into animals and swords. Happy Harry was happy to share one of the most important tricks of balloon shaping with Steven: clown approved balloons. By the time Happy Harry had to go, Steven was equipped with a balloon hat, balloon swords, and balloon animals. His small room was bursting with colorful clown paraphernalia as the two said goodbye, and James promised to become a frequent visitor at the hospital while Steven undergoes treatment. It’s safe to say that Steven has a new favorite clown now!
By: Teresa Dietrich
Sawyer perched on his dinosaur themed bed, tyrannosaurus rex mask hung above him, his early enthusiasm for meeting paleontologist Matt much more subdued now that he was actually being introduced. But we knew that despite this he would warm up. Sawyer is in general an energetic and enthusiastic kid, and a great deal of his enthusiasm is directed towards dinosaurs and all things prehistoric. When presented with the career question, Sawyer had his answer instantly: when he grows up he wants to be a paleontologist.
The presence of a professional can often leave kids reserved and unsure of themselves, and for the first fifteen minutes Sawyer spent a lot of time looking down at his Jurassic Park shirt or listening as Matt tossed out facts about fossils and dinosaurs. Eventually, Matt presented Sawyer with an obscure fact involving ancient reptile family trees. Sawyer immediately leapt into the conversation, his earlier reticence dissipated by his joy in confirming that he not only knew that particular fact already, but had several of his own he’d like to share.
The two discussed events from millenia ago as though they were as familiar as yesterday’s news. Matt shared some of his discoveries with Sawyer, including the 72 million year old vertebrae of a megalodon, one of Sawyer’s favorite prehistoric animals. Sawyer carefully held the vertebrae; cradling a little bit of prehistory in his small hands, the childlike joy that had originally been hidden shone through.
During the course of their conversation, Matt revealed that every year new prehistoric species are discovered and more sites are scheduled for digging. So, he explained, there will be plenty left to discover by the time Sawyer’s old enough to be a paleontologist. By the time Matt left, Sawyer was glowing with new knowledge and the promise of a trip to the Museum of Natural History.
Meet Tristan- one of the happiest guys we've ever met! We think we might look forward to our visits with Tristan as much as he does! With a cheerful attitude and smile as Tristan's it's hard not to feel the giggles come on ourselves!
When we met Emily, a Pitt volleyball player who is equally as bubbly and cheerful, we knew they were the perfect match! Emily and Tristan hit it off right away. Emily was especially impressed with (and maybe even a little jealous of) Tristan's dinosaur PJs. Tristan LOVES dinosaurs! Everyone had a fantastic time playing make believe and making silly faces, and Tristan and Emily can't wait to meet again at Tristan's next appointment!
Kelsey and Kathleen are at it again! When these two get together, the room is full of nonstop chatter. Kathleen recently visited Kelsey during one of Kelsey's hospital visits, where they talked about everything from Kelsey's hair bow collection, the latest happenings in the world of wresting, Kelsey's dog, Kathleen's summer plans, what's happening in Pitt Cheer, and the recent Pittsburgh Marathon (which Kelsey's parents ran!).
Kathleen recently visited Kelsey during one of Kelsey's hospital trips. Kelsey was so excited to know that Kathleen would be there waiting for her at the hospital. She knew she had something to look forward to that day. She loved introducing "her friend Kathleen" to her nurses as they filtered in and out of her room. Never a dull moment, they talked about everything from Kelsey's hair bow collection, the latest happenings in the world of wresting, Kelsey's dog, Kathleen's summer plans, what's happening in Pitt Cheer, and the recent Pittsburgh Marathon (which Kelsey's parents ran!). They discussed their summer plans, and even talked of a possible park visit with Kelsey's dog in the near future! Kelsey was sad to leave Kathleen at the end of the appointment and she can't wait to see her friend again soon!
When Heather Grace Thomas reached out to us last October asking if she could represent Connecting Champions in the 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon and run in memory of her cousin, our former intern and volunteer, Victoria Ondo-Burnfin, we were flattered and honored, but little did we know the incredible impact this kindhearted, passionate woman was about to have on our organization.
Last summer, the world lost a beautiful and loving soul to a battle with cancer; Victoria Ondo-Burnfin - former Connecting Champions role model and intern, beloved wife, daughter, cousin, and friend to so many. Seeing the passion and love Victoria had for the kids involved with Connecting Champions, Victoria’s cousin, Heather Grace Thomas, wanted to carry on her legacy and memory through a positive impact for our kids.
When we began this journey together, we had no idea how far it would take us. It took us much farther than the 182.8 collective miles that our team of 19 ran during marathon weekend. Every goal we set, we met, but our team was relentless in continuing to push themselves and each other, both in their training and their impact on Connecting Champions. Time and time again we hear that there is something different about running for someone or something. It’s not about you or your personal doubts or fears. You’re not there for yourself. You’re there for a purpose and you keep putting one foot in front of the other, because someone is counting on you. You made a promise. This amazing team made their promises to our kids. For months they trained in the rain, in the cold, the heat, snow, the wee hours of the morning, and after long days at work when many others were relaxing and winding down for the night. They trained and they ran and they shared the Connecting Champions kids’ stories, spreading awareness for our organization and our cause. In just its first year of existence, the Connecting Champions Pittsburgh Marathon Charity Team in Memory of Victoria Obdo-Burnfin raised more than six times our original fundraising goal. Many of our team members set personal records of their own; first race, first half marathon, first full marathon, a PR. They dedicated so much of their time and of themselves to our kids and every bit of it shows in the lasting impact they have created.
From the very beginning, our team captains, Heather Grace Thomas and Alanna Figurelli, have been a beautiful combination of smiles and good cheer with drive and commitment, never losing sight of why we took the first step in this journey. Not only has our team raised $12,669 so far, making 50 friendship moments possible in the coming year and creating countless smiles, but they have begun what we hope to be a Connecting Champions tradition for years to come. A tradition of passion, selfless athleticism, and of carrying on the loving memory and legacy of Victoria through the smiles of the kids in Connecting Champions. We know that this is the start of something truly beautiful and we look forward to watching it grow and strengthen, and our impact spread. So be on the lookout next year for the Connecting Champions shirts in the sea of runners and send a little extra love and encouragement their way for all that they’ve given for our organization and for our kids. Maybe even consider lacing up those running shoes and creating some smiles with us next year!
By: Nicole Destefano and Isabela Tetino, Little Champ Role Models
When we first met Avery in January, we knew she would have us wrapped around her little finger in no time. We had heard wonderful things about Avery from Sidney, Jen, and Coy prior to meeting her for the first time and we were beyond excited to meet her. Just as Jen had advised us, we showed up that day ready for Barbies, board games, and manicures—all of Avery’s favorite things.
At first, Avery was clearly nervous to meet us (and we were just as nervous to meet her too!), but within minutes she was chatting up a storm and showing us all of the toys in her room. During that hour and a half, I think we managed to play with every toy in Avery’s room. From Hello Kitty bingo, Candy Land, and her Doc McStuffins veterinary set, Avery succeeded in keeping us busy the entire time we were there.
At the end of our first visit, Jen asked Avery if it was okay for us to come back and play again and Avery immediately answered yes. We couldn’t wait for next Wednesday to see what else she had in store for us.
However, due to conflicting schedules, we were unable to see Avery for a few weeks. When we finally had the chance to go back, we felt nervous all over again. Would Avery still remember all the fun we had a few weeks ago?
As soon as we walked into her room, it was obvious that Avery was just as excited for us to be back as we were. We started our morning with Go Fish and Candy Land and Avery showed us all of her awesome new birthday presents.
Then Jen brought out the nail polish and we spent the rest of our morning at Avery’s personal nail salon. She even managed to convince her dad to get a manicure! Once again, an hour and a half flew by and Avery managed to keep us busy and laughing for every second.
It is truly an honor to be involved in an organization as amazing as CCChampions. Of course our main goal is to allow Avery to have time to just be like any other normal kid, but in a way, Avery has reminded us how to be a kid again too! We are definitely wrapped around her little finger and we spend each week waiting for our Wednesday morning play dates.
What's better than a birthday surprise party? A surprise party full of new friends!
Keimon is a delightful person and an absolute joy to be around. He has a passion for football, and his smile and good nature are infectious. When we heard he had a birthday coming up, we knew it would be the perfect time to introduce him to his new role models, Justin, Dom, and Sterling of the Duquesne football team!
Justin, Dom, and Sterling were the special guests at Keimon's surprise birthday party. A surprise within a surprise! The guys played video games together before the party (another passion of Keimon's) and enjoyed cake and ice cream with the family. They all agreed they had a wonderful time ad are already planning their next visit! Keimon was so excited to have special friends there just for him and is looking forward to his new friends visiting again soon!
When you're as big a Penguins fan as our friend Michael, there's no place you'd rather be on a Thursday evening than cheering on the Pens as they defeat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1.
With an interest in sports broadcasting, it was a special evening for Michael when he received the invitation to attend a Penguins game as the special guest of Pens broadcaster, Steve Mears.
Michael and his dad received two tickets to the game, as well as a behind the scenes look at the broadcasting booth, and a view into the world of professional sports broadcasting. Michael toured the booth with Steve, asked questions, and learned a bit about what it's like to work in pro hockey. Michael was surprised that Steve has so much homework to do before each game, although he said he "didn't think his homework was so hard because it was about something so fun"-- when you love what you do, "work" doesn't feel so much like work.
Michael had a great time meeting Steve Mears. He was really impressed by Steve's broadcasting set up and enjoyed learning about a field that interests him as a career. His favorite part of the evening was getting to watch the game from his amazing seats in The Club. Michael said Steve definitely has the best seats in the house!
Don't let that pep in her step and sparkle in her eye fool you-- Kelsey is one fierce girl! When she's not cheering with the Pitt Cheerleaders, she's behind the scenes with the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance taking on some of their strongest wrestlers!
Kelsey was recently featured as the guest of honor at KSWA wrestling event! She was invited to arrive early for a behind the scenes tour of the facility where she met many of the night's stars, including The Face of Pittsburgh, BroHemoth, Mitch, The Jester, Sly Scarpone, and others. She was able to check out the ring (and of course bounced around a bit!), hold the championship belts, and meet the owner! Kelsey and her dad had special reserved seats for the big event, and the crowd even joined in on cheering for her in her own fight against cancer!
We're not sure who had more fun-- the wrestlers or Kelsey! Regardless, all parties are looking forward to meeting again for more wrestling fun in the future, so stay tuned!
At Connecting Champions, we're all about making friends! Kid friends, role model friends, and friends of the organization. We are so excited to introduce you to our new friend-- she's the most recent addition to the Connecting Champions Brain Trust, one of our amazing team captains for our 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon charity team, and an all around wonderful human being!
"It wan't until I attended Penn State as an undergraduate student that I learned about the devastations of what cancer does to a child, their family, and their circle of supporters. I've met the strongest individuals through my involvement in philanthropies that are making a lasting impact on those with childhood cancer. I am forever grateful to have these kids, their siblings, and parents in my life, so I fight for a promising future for them. My name is Alanna Figurelli and I am a member of Connecting Champions Young Advisory Board - the "Brain Trust" - and serve as a Team Captain for Connecting Champions' 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon charity team.
I feel that words could never fully capture all the moments of inspiration and hope that come along with your participation with Connecting Champions. What I love most about getting involved here is that while the journey with cancer can be dark, I know that Connecting Champions is bringing even just a speck of light to that journey, which makes pouring every minute and every dime into this organization so rewarding! I am running the half marathon this year for the Connecting Champions charity team. I will run and I will fight to give back just a piece of what these kids and this organization have given to the Pittsburgh community.
I know I am not that only one that has been forever altered by the children and families of those battling pediatric cancer. I have witnessed them touch the lives of so many others. These kids, some of which are the smallest of children fighting the largest of battles, their stories are affecting the world, as they have shown us that through every up and down, there is always faith, hope, friendship, and strength, but above all, love. If you are even just thinking about getting involved, do not hesitate to contact us to learn more!"
Meet Mason-- Future outdoor adventurer!
Mason is crazy about getting out there and getting dirty. Lucky for him, that's one of Phil's passions in life as well! Mason and Phil, instructor for the Explorer Club of Pittsburgh's Mountaineering School, had their first excursion recently at ASCEND-- a climbing gym on the South Side.
Phil helped Mason learn how to belay, top rope, and boulder. Mason was pretty overwhelmed in the beginning learning all the knots, but once he got on the wall he didn't want to stop. His dad even took a shot at it too! Phil did a great job letting Mason do his thing while also teaching him different techniques.
One of Mason's favorite parts of the adventure was "topping out," when he could climb in the bouldering section to the very top of the wall -- and then climb all the way on top of it. Mason asked his parents about 6 times if he could become a member at the climbing gym. He and Phil have some big plans ahead including going on hikes, overnights, and outdoor climbing! Mason gave Phil a hug (twice) before he left. It was truly inspiring to see Mason's proud look of accomplishment as he conquered the wall and made it to the top. Mason was excited to learn some real skills that he and Phil can apply on some of their future adventures out into the wilderness
Meet Kelsey-- future cheerleader/wrestler!
One thing that's for sure is Kelsey is a go-getter. This girl loves cheerleading and wrestling and isn't about to let obstacles stand in her way of perusing her passion. Full of smiles and vibrant energy, she was recently honored as a special guest at a Pitt basketball game against Virginia Tech where she got to meet her CCChampions role model, Kathleen, for the very first time! Kelsey's special day included getting to meet and hang out with the team before the game, being announced as the guest of honor, and even cheering with the squad during the game! We know this is the start of a very special friendship and we are so excited to see these two take on the world!
It's been a bit on the cold side to be out ghost hunting, but that's not stopping these friends from spending time together! Our ghost hunter, Kara, met up with her role models, Chris and Melanie, last weekend for some delicious food and more ghost talk. Chris, Melanie, Kara, and family enjoyed dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse while sharing more stories, plans for the future, and theories (the theories seem to be never ending!). The topics of conversation ranged from ghosts, astrology, gem stones, video games, Kara's upcoming birthday party, and going back to school. Chris and Melanie brought Kara a surprise gift! A Haunted Pittsburgh book, and some Steel Town Paranormal swag including a t-shirt, and pencil! Kara was excited to show off her new gear when she goes back to school. Stay tuned for more ghostly adventures coming up!
#FlashbackFriday to our Chef friends Angelika and Chef Geoff!
Angelika has a wonderful, bubbly personality, and an incredible passion for food. Our Little Champs volunteers, Copley and Courtney, would often find Angelika in her room watching the Food Network. So, we thought Chef Geoff, the Executive Chef for the Pittsburgh Penguins, would be a perfect match for Angelika!
At their first meeting both Angelika and Chef Geoff were filled with a lot of nervous excitement! But after spending some time touring the Penguins facility together they lost the nervousness and were just plain excited - they couldn’t wait to start cooking! Chef Geoff taught Angelika some of his best cooking tips and then enlisted her as his Sous Chef for the day. They worked side by side in the kitchen for well over an hour preparing a sensational meal of hanger steak, purple potato hash, and patty pan squash with truffle demi glace. They both went home that night with happy hearts and fully bellies!
What's your New Year's Resolution for 2018??? If it's to eat a healthy and nutritious meal, Chef Geoff has you covered!
The world better watch out- Jesse is one tough guy! Combined with his passion for wrestling, he is a force to be reckoned with! We matched Jesse with pro wrestler Lou Zygmuncik of the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance.
The two met for the first time during one of Jesse's hospital visits and were fast friends, discussing the ins and outs of the wrestling business, secrets of the trade, and their favorite wrestlers. The pair have many plans and eyes on the future including a trip to the ring to watch Lou! We are so excited to see this friendship grow!
Amber is a warmhearted, brave young woman, and reminiscing on her friendship with Sergeant Colleen puts a warm fuzzy feeling in our soul and a smile to our face. Amber wants to be a police officer, so we matched her with Sergeant Colleen of the Pittsburgh Police. Not only did Sergeant Colleen visit Amber in the hospital, but she also asked her colleagues at the forensics lab and the bomb squad to provide demonstrations for Amber in her hospital room!
Once Amber had the all clear from her doctors for adventures outside the hospital, the pair participated in K-9 unit, visited the police academy, participated in traffic stop and firearms training, and learned about explosives at the bomb squad’s practice range. In our opinion, Amber is well on her way toward earning a badge!
This week's #WhyWednesday is brought to you by CCChampions role model, PJ!
"As a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, I was lucky enough to meet with Sidney. Instantly I was blown away by the amazing organization he had started and knew I had to be a part of it. I soon met Bryce Johnson and made a deeper connection than I could have ever hoped for. By using sports to crush childhood cancer, CCChampions gave me a platform to connect with Bryce. CCChampions has meant so much more than just a friendship, Bryce became a little brother to me. From the hours we spent playing board games to the countless times he beat me in Madden, he showed me strength and courage to never ever give up, no matter how tough of a day it was. When we first started hanging out, Bryce was shy and reserved but by the time he was healthy enough he was running laps around us on the base paths. Bryce was quite the competitor, as he never took it easy on us during any of the games we played. Easily my favorite memory was when we had a home run derby in the hospital. Bryce crushed the ball all over the atrium, drawing loud cheers and bringing a smile to everyone’s face. I was so glad to have been such a small part of his battle, but he became a huge part of my career and life. CCChampions gave me more than an opportunity to give back, it gave me a friendship for life!"
Many of you may remember Camden, future WWE wrestler- our first kid in CCChampions and paired with our Executive Director and founder Sidney Kushner! We met Camden when he was just 4 years old, then a rather shy and quiet guy.
Camden and Sidney's friendship grew quickly and has spanned a length of 6 years, through all the home run derbies, Jurassic World, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, building circuits at the Children's Museum, and yes, even all the wrestling moves he practiced on Sidney.
Camden and Sidney recently got together to celebrate Camden's TENTH birthday!!
There's never a dull moment when these two get together. The two friends had a blast hanging out, as always. The evening was full to the brim with laughter, smiles, and good times inherent in a full and thriving friendship. They played basketball in Camden's basement and played a new board game called Qwarkle. Camden won!!
Happy birthday, Camden! Keep on smiling, friend!
All we can say about 2018 is "Wow!" This has been an incredible year full of smiles, laughter, and inspiration. So much has happened this year! We are meeting 90% of newly diagnosed children ages 4-22 within a 150 mile radius of Pittsburgh, in 19 counties in Pennsylvania, plus Ohio and West Virginia. We are able to create upwards of 300 friendship of support for our kids, and we've now matched kids with 34 different professions!
Our most recent friendships include Cyber Security, train conductor, ghost hunter, constitutional lawyer, and animator!
Three of our teens, Will Zytnick, Chris Newlan, and Linaya White, went away to collage to pursue their dreams!!
We can't wait for 2019 and all of the joy and smiles that await us in the new year!
March to Friendship is right around the corner! Make your teams now and get an early bird surprise!
2019 Pittsburgh Marathon- **NEW** We're excited to announce that we are participating in the 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon and are currently in search of runners for our team!
This week's #WhyWednesday is brought to you by one of our team captains for the 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon, Heather Grace Thomas.
“Congratulations! Your Race Entry is Confirmed!”
Everyone has that one friend that convinces you to do everything. You just can't say no. Or maybe they just won't LET YOU say no. I have that friend. She’s actually one of my best friends, which is why I decided to join the charity team of her choice last year for the 2018 Pittsburgh Marathon - our first half marathon together. Between the training, the eating (YAS), and the fundraising, I was also actively learning about Cystic Fibrosis and its impact on thousands of children and adults across the nation, but also the world. I remember wanting to lay on my couch instead of getting up to go on my training runs. Pulling up the multiple stories and videos from our families affected by CF always motivated me. My butt got up and I was out the door! They fueled every single step.
Fast forward to race day: a dreary Sunday morning, brightened by sideline cheers, helpful volunteers, motivational music, and thousands of determined runners. 3..2..1 and our team was off in our matching neon yellow shirts. You couldn’t miss us if you tried! Throughout the race I noticed many other T-shirts. Pictures, quotes, names of individuals and “for a cures” surrounded me. As I ran, I learned the various reasons why so many others were running. With many different charities participating in the Run For A Reason program, I was able to learn a piece of their journey, and who they were here for today.
I had a mission to carry out for those who I was representing and I realized THOUSANDS of others were on that same mission. Many of the participants ran for someone or something much bigger than the medal at the finish line or a PR. As I finished the race, I looked down at my sneakers and thought, “Sorry feet, but this definitely won’t be your last time doing this thing.”
Fast forward to the BEST part about finishing a race -- BRUNCH TIME.
While celebrating with family and friends, surrounded by bottomless fries, there was one thing missing; my cousin, Victoria, who was feeling too sick post-chemo treatment to make it to our victory meal.
I’m now signed up for the 2019 Pittsburgh Half Marathon (again, sorry feet!) with a specific goal in mind. That goal to inspire others on the course with a specific name on the back of my shirt. Victoria. She passed shortly after receiving her masters degree to become a child life specialist. She had the biggest passion for helping kids, especially those going through battles like her own. When she wasn’t studying, being an amazing wife, at doctor’s appointments or in treatment she would spend her time at CCChampions; a Pittsburgh-based 501(c)3 nonprofit that helps kids with cancer through the developmental & social challenges of the disease. They match each child with an inspirational role model who can be there every step of the way. Anyone who knew Vic would say she is thee ultimate role model - in sports, in school, in faith, in family and in friendships... like the ones she made at CCChampions.
If she were here today, she would be drinking sweet tea like a true southern belle beauty, preparing for her career in child life, and volunteering with this organization she cared deeply about.
This year I will be running for my charity of choice - CCChampions. It will be CCChampions first year with a team in the Pittsburgh Marathon Run For A Reason Program!. I am so excited to watch this team grow and spread our mission across the city of Pittsburgh.
Find me on the course this year sporting purple (Victoria's favorite color) with Victoria Kathelene Ondo Burnfins' name spread across my shirt. If you see me, send a smile or a wave my way. Then, look at your feet and tell them, "Sorry, because we’re going to keep on going."
To every supporter, THANK YOU. When you show up on race day, you provide motivation to not only finish the race, but to complete the mission we set out for ourselves, or maybe even for others.
My mission is to FIND A CURE. With your help, we will be #VICtorious.
See you at the starting line!
Vic & CCCHampions
We are actively growing our team to make sure we spread awareness and raise funds for an amazing organization. Want to join our mission!? Contact email@example.com!
Do you love running? Do you love making a difference in the lives of kids? Why not combine the two! CCChampions is excited to announce that we are participating in the 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon as a Contributing Charity, and we are currently recruiting runners!
This year, our team is running in honor of our former intern, Victoria. From the day we met her, and her special smile, she brought incredible light into our lives -- the lives of our kids, our families, and our organization. Our team is running in her memory and in order to raise funds to create more special friendships like Vic's friendship with Sydney.
As a thank you for running and fundraising for CCChampions, we will cover the registration fee for each runner that meets the fundraising minimum by February 28th, and the remaining proceeds will go toward creating inspirational friendships for newly diagnosed kids with cancer in the coming year.
Marathon = $300
Half Marathon = $200
5K = $75
Team Relay = $500
Hand Cycle/Wheelchair Division = $100
In addition to registration fee coverage, you will have access to fundraising planning assistance, templates, support, team events, CCChampions swag, race training information and materials, and you will be part of vibrant and loving community of runners working to improve the lives of kids with cancer.
To join our team:
Types of Friendships