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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
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!!
Types of Friendships