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:
Guest post from former CCChampions intern, Little Champ Volunteer, and Pitt CCChampions Vice President:
Izzy- "During my sophomore year of college, I was looking for a new club to join when I stumbled upon the Pitt CCChampions club. After one year as a member, I became vice president of the club where I had the opportunity to work closely with Sidney and his team to plan fundraisers and events for some of the kids in CCChampions. I was also given the opportunity to be a Little Champs volunteer, where I met my friend Avery. I would visit Avery at CHP each week where we would have a blast playing games and making crafts together. Having the opportunity to be a part of some of the amazing things that CCChampions does for the kids really sparked my interest in doing more for the organization, which is when I decided to apply for the Friendship Assistant internship. One of my favorite things about working with CCChampions was that my role allowed me to watch our friendships grow. I would see pictures and hear the story of how each kid met their role model, and then I had the opportunity to follow the friendships as they grew and to see each of the special moments that we made possible for the kids. Although my time as a Friendship Assistant has come to an end, I am so grateful to continue to be a part of the CCChampions family and to watch the friendships continue to grow!"
We are SO excited to introduce the newest member of our team, Kelley Gavel! Kelley is our Friendship Assistant Intern, and will be assisting with all things "friendship"! A graduate of The Pennsylvania State University, she spent the last year teaching 5th grade in Galway, Ireland and came home to the states to teach high school special education and gifted elementary education outside of Philadelphia. She recently moved to Pittsburgh to pursue her masters in Applied Developmental Psychology at The University of Pittsburgh with a concentration in Children with Special Health Care Needs and Child Life. When Kelley is not in school as a teacher or a student, she enjoys working at her favorite place in the world, The Double H Ranch, a summer camp designed for children with chronic illnesses.
We are so excited to welcome this bubbly, full-of-life, and loving member to our team!
Thomas loves both technology and helping people, so the field of cybersecurity suits him perfectly! We introduced Thomas to Scott, cybersecurity expert for Highmark Health. They met at Scott’s office where Scott invited two other heads of department to talk about their work and experiences. Thomas had plenty of questions and was excited to learn about what it takes to succeed in this field of work. They discussed the history of their department and what each of their responsibilities are in the company.
They even put together a backpack full of surprises and gear for Thomas! We got a tour of the building and got to see where each of the different departments does their work, and Scott invited Thomas to come back and shadow for a day, which Thomas was really excited about! So, stay tuned for more Cybersecurity adventures!
When Kylar told us of his interest in animation, we began the hunt high and low for the perfect role model. When we met Jonathan, professor of animation and visual effects at Point Park University, we knew we had hit the nail on the head! Kylar and Jonathon met at Point Park University, where we got to spend the day in the animation lab.
Jonathan gave us three options of animation projects we could choose from- a line drawn animation, a 2D project, and a 3D project. Kylar chose the 3D project, so we got to use a program called Cinema 4d. Jonathan walked us through every step of the process and we were able to create our very own animation! After our projects were completed, we spent some time talking with Jonathan about his experiences, different career paths in the animation field, and what it takes to succeed as an animator. Jonathan told us about how he got his start in NYC making commercials after finishing school at Edinboro. He offered Kylar a lot of advice and things to think about for the future. He had prepared an “animator’s starter kit” for Kylar complete with a sketchbook, pencils, a zoetrope, and an instructional book that he said all animators start with, along with some cool t-shirts and stickers of work that Jonathan has done! Check out the animation Kylar made!
Late in October, Kara and her family returned to the paranormal hotbed that is Harmony, PA. This time for a formal ghost hunt of the Harmony Museum! Chris and Melanie, Kara's role models and the founders of Steel Town Paranormal, are very familiar with the Harmony Museum and were positive it would provide a good training ground for Kara's first official investigation. Kara came equipped with her own "starter equipment" which served her well on her last visit to Harmony (she actually got something really interesting on video!) and Chris and Melanie brought a case of more advanced, professional grade gear.
The hunt started in the cellar, where Chris and Melanie modeled tried and true ghost hunting protocol, and soon Kara and her whole family were joining in. The hunt then moved to the second floor library (which is believed to be haunted by Harmony founder Johann Rapp), and the ghost hunting equipment began to "go crazy." The investigation primarily centered around a desk with a locked drawer. Ultimately we were unable to open the drawer, but everyone left excited for the next hunt!
Clarity LOVES to sing and make music. We think she could be best described as "a musical bundle of joy!" We were SO excited to introduce her to her role model and friend, Valerie! Valerie is a local musician, music teacher, and genuinely kindhearted person, and we knew she and Clarity would be great friends. Clarity has been taking piano lessons with Valerie for close to a month now and even just gave her first recital!
Watch out world, this girl is coming! We can't wait to continue to watch Clarity grow and learn from Valerie.
Other fun facts about Clarity: has a twin sister, loves rainbows, favorite colors are pink and purple, enjoys playing Uno and Headbands, and was recently a frog for Halloween (her twin was a princess- princess and the frog!).
We’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing lately, and with hockey season in full swing, we couldn’t help but think about Madison’s friendship with Dan.
About this time last year, we were able to match the hockey-loving Pittsburgher Madison with her friend and role model Dan McCoy, a Paralympic sled hockey world champion, gold medalist, and MVP! Watching their friendship blossom was really something quite special, as they bonded over their love of Pittsburgh and hockey. Dan visited Madison in the hospital where he shared stories of playing hockey with some of the Penguins and even let Madison try on his gold medal!
Later, Dan invited Madison and CCChampions out to the Penguins training arena where we all got to try sled hockey! Dan provided everyone with the appropriate gear and attire and we all got to attempt to slide around the rink and pass the puck to one another, which was not easy! We are thankful for friendships like Dan and Madison’s that always bring a smile to our face and remind us how lucky we are to be able to do what we do.
Our constitutional lawyer friends met again for the second time, but if we didn't know better, we would think they've known each other for years! Ellen visited Sophia in the hospital during one of her inpatient stays to help pass the time. They haven't seen each other for quite some time, but they have been in touch through email and we can tell their friendship is growing like wild fire! Their visit was full of non-stop excited chatter discussing many of Ellen's recent adventures from her travels. Ellen brought back some reading materials from a seminar she attended on 25 Years of the Innocence Project. Sophia was excited to dig into that during the rest of her hospital stay. There was not a single lull during their entire visit! They passed the time making more exciting plans together for the future and discussing the upcoming election. Sophia shared with Ellen that she has decided to take Latin in school, and Ellen promptly sent her a list of "helpful Latin phrases to throw around at parties." Sophia was very excited to introduce her doctors to "her mentor, Ellen" when they came in! We can't wait to see what these two are up to next! Stay tuned!
What a pair!
In case you didn't know, here at CCChampions we LOVE making new friends! And we love when our friends make friends too! Today, for #NathionalNewFriendDay we are celebrating a new friendship between little miss Mara and her role model, Brittney!
Brittney and Mara met for the first time this week, and we can already tell it's the start of a beautiful friendship! Though shy at first, Mara warmed up to Brittney and was full of questions! Including what those metal things on Brittney's teeth were- braces. They discussed what colors Brittney should get next for her braces and Mara showed off her loose tooth. The two new friends were able to visit the playroom, where they spent time playing with superheros and Mara picked a present out of the treasure box: an over the door basketball hoop! Brittney put the hoop together for Mara and they were able to shoot some hoops together. Stay tuned for more news as this friendship unfolds!
Meet Kara, ghost hunter extraordinaire! When Kara told us she wants to be a ghost hunter when she grows up, we figured we had our work cut out for us finding role models. Luckily we were wrong! When we met Chris and Melanie, founders of Steel Town Paranormal, we knew they would make the perfect friends for Kara! The friends met for the first time last night in the famously haunted town of Harmony, PA, a town Chris and Melanie have spent much time in during long investigations. Kara, sister Sara, Mom, Dad, and dog Bubbles met Chris and Melanie in town and walked to the Harmony Inn, a restaurant Chris and Melanie have investigated many times. Over appetizers and desserts, the friends shared ghost stories, talked about investigation techniques, equipment, theories on what a "ghost" is and why certain places are haunted, and talked about places around the US Kara would like to investigate, many of which Chris and Melanie have been to! Kara had her ghost hunting kit with her and wanted to explore the restaurant, so after dinner we toured the Inn and discussed past events and ghost experiences that have happened there. Kara took LOTS of pictures and videos in the hopes of catching a ghost on camera! On the walk back to the car, they shared more stories and discussed other haunted buildings in the town of Harmony. Stay tuned for more adventures of Kara, Chris, and Melanie, including a real investigation!!
Pictures are in and we are so excited to share! What an incredible evening of friendship, inspiration, and celebration of the amazing people that make what we do possible!
From an incredibly successful sold out event, the wonderful silent auction, to a surprise finger painting event by Cody Sabol, the amazingly inspirational Wall of Stories, an incredible speech by Will Zytnick, the return of our amazing emcee, Sean Nolan, and of course, most importantly, celebrating our amazing kids and how they've inspired us throughout the past year with the 2018 Inspiration Awards, this very well may be our favorite Night of Inspiration yet!
Inspiration Award Winners Will, Adrian, and Kristie
Cody Sabol, Speed Finger Painter
Cody Sabol, a famous local artist, performed a live speed finger painting of a local football hero that we were able to raffle off at the event. After the painting was complete, Cody invited all of our kids present that night to sign the painting with their hand print. What a beautiful piece of artwork- thank you Cody! Check out more of his work here: https://codysabolart.com/
Wall of Stories
Wall of stories is something very special and unique to Night of Inspiration. Wall of Stories is just what it sounds like- a wall of friendship stories of our kids and their role models. Each story is able to be sponsored in order to create more friendships just like those on the wall so that we can keep the smiles coming! Thanks to everyone who sponsored friendship moments this year!
HUGE thank you to our sponsors! Without you, none of this would be possible!
There aren't enough words to describe how thankful to everyone who attended, donated, or helped in any way with Night of Inspiration 2018! It truly was a magical evening and we couldn't do it without the help of so many wonderful people! We are already excited for next year!
While in the process of working out some exciting opportunities for Thomas in his dream profession: cyber-security, we decided to introduce him to our good friends at Schell Games.
Thomas, along with his brother and mom, got a full tour of the Schell Games headquarters, including the work spaces where the video game developers make the magic happen, secret passage ways and corridors, and the testing facilities where the games are play tested. They were able to play test a brand new demo of an upcoming game in virtual reality, play Schell's hit virtual reality game "I Expect You To Die," and even got to play Schell's augmented reality Star Wars game with coaching from the lead developer!
Because of the nature of their work and the fact that they work for some pretty high profile clients, Schell can't talk about all of their exciting games coming up through development, but that sure didn't stop Thomas from taking a few guesses! We will just have to wait and see if his guesses were right!
Stay tuned for some exciting adventures we have planned for Thomas in Cyber-security! And as always, a huge thank you to our wonderful friends at Schell!
Parker was given permission from his doctors to visit Conductor Brian at the rail yard!
Brian then backed us up out of the rail yard while Parker stood patiently behind him, looking out the window and over Brian's shoulder. Once we got out of the rail yard, Brian explained to Parker each of the controls and exactly what he was doing when operating the train. Parker's favorite part was the horn. He loved blowing that horn: "It's just such a great sound." Once we got to the South Side, we brought the train to a full stop and we turned around, going forwards all the way back to the rail yard.
Brian was awesome with Parker, and taught him everything. At one point they argued about whether the train across the river was NS or CSX, but Parker wasn't going to let Brian convince him. He said, "Hey, you're distracting me!" Brian introduced Parker to all the different guys at the rail yard and even gave him an old train number sign (the sign at the top of the train). Parker had all sorts of questions, and spoke with Brian and the crew like they were peers -- he really knew his stuff! Brian said if ever they need to test the horn, they know who to call.
For Amber and Sergeant Colleen's latest adventure in the world of law enforcement, they visited the Pittsburgh K-9 unit!
Amber fearlessly put on the training suit and participated in the K-9 training!
It warms our hearts beyond description to see the friendship between Amber and Sergeant Colleen grow, and we couldn't be more excited for Amber for all the learning opportunities Sergeant Colleen has been able to provide. Their past adventures include visits with the bomb squad and forensics lab, hospital visits and chats with Sergeant Colleen, and trips to the police academy, participation in traffic stops and firearms training, and demonstrations at the bomb squad's practice range!
This week's #FriendshipFriday is brought to you by Miss Isabella, ballerina extraordinaire! Isabella was one of our 2017 Night of Inspiration award winners! A sweet, energetic, future ballerina, she was matched with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performer, Patsy Maxim. Patsy and Isabella’s adventures include trips to the Pittsburgh Ballet, and many visits at the hospital playing games, doing puzzles, dancing, and having fun! Having Pasty gave Isabella something to look forward to at the hospital during treatment. We hope you can make it to this year’s Night of Inspiration to find out who will receive the 2018 Inspiration Awards! For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.ccchampions.com/inspirtation
Meet Sean! Sean LOVES robots! And he is one of the most curious 10-year-olds we have met. We were so excited to introduce him Mark at CapSen Robotics!
Sean and Mark had a great time touring CapSen and meeting Mark's coworkers! Sean loved learning about the robot that Mark is working to program. Sean had LOTS of questions for Mark! Mark talked about their development process and everything they have to do in order to get a robotics product ready for their client!
They even got to check out the 3D Printer and printed a turtle and an alien!
Sean can't wait to head back to CapSen again soon for more robot fun!
Sophia is one smart cookie, and passionate too! If one thing is for sure, this girl knows what she wants- to be a constitutional lawyer who specializes in immigration and criminal justice reform. We were so happy to be able to connect her with Ellen Doyle of Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec, LLC.
Sophia and Ellen met for the first time this week and spent some quality time getting to know each other over coffee at a local cafe. Sophia was excited and had many questions for her experienced and knowledgeable role model. They discussed possible future plans for educational trips and a book they may read and discuss together. We are so excited for Sophia and her new friendship with Ellen! Stay tuned to hear about their next adventures in the coming months!
What an incredible time for our little guy, Adrian! Last week, Adrian got to ring the bell in celebration of the end of his chemotherapy treatment. His special friends Will and Craig, members of Pitt's soccer team, were happy to be able to be a part of this special and emotional day for Adrian.
Adrian, Will, and Craig spent many hours together during Adrian's treatments talking about Pokemon, playing video games, and just generally having an all-around good time, and we know they are looking forward to many more adventures now that treatment is done! Congratulations Adrian!!
Tuesday was a gorgeous night for a ball game and an exciting day for CCChampions kids Austin and Sean! When asked if we knew anyone that would want to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Pirates game, we knew just who to call.
Two-time champion over cancer, Austin, threw the first pitch of the game to fellow cancer defeater and close friend, Sean. Cool, calm, and collected, the boys didn't bat an eye at the pressure of being in front of thousands of people. They have been through much tougher situations together.
After a flawless first pitch, the boys, along with Austin's grandmother and Sean's dad, got to enjoy the game from incredible seats in the Lexus Club, while the rest of the families and CCChampions friends watched from the stands, complimentary or AT&T SportsNet.
We even managed to get our hands on a foul ball!
Austin and Sean are both alumni of the CCChampions program. Austin, who wants to be a star athlete, was matched with the Carlow men's basketball team. Sean, who wants to be a sports broadcaster, was matched with the Pirates own broadcaster Joe Block.
Austin and Sean were featured in an article by Noah Hill. Check out his story here!
And a special thank you to AT&T SportsNet for making this experience possible!
When elementary schooler Davis told us how much he loves all sorts of video games, we knew he was ready for a special CCChampions adventure.
That's why we introduced him to Shawn Patton, a video game designer at Schell Games!
Did you know? Schell Games is the largest full-service education and entertainment game company in the country!
After one of Davis's visits to the hospital, Shawn invited Davis to his office to explore his world of video game making and video game testing. Davis would have tested Shawn's games all day if he could have!
Shawn was particularly excited to show off the Lego building Virtual Reality game that he helped to develop. Shawn was also excited to show off his amazing work place, complete with a new crow's nest, secret doors, and hidden rooms. Everyone loved the visit. Davis loved how all the employees' desks were littered with the coolest toys and it was hard to pull everyone away from the Virtual Reality machines (mom and dad included).
As you can tell, he's very serious at work!
Friendship moments like these are so special. Instead of trips to Pittsburgh being a time for pricks and prods, for procedures and news about his illness, friendships like these help it become a place where he has a special friend waiting just for him.
CCChampions question: If you could go anywhere in the world through virtual reality, where would you go?
Types of Friendships