Connecting ill children with college athletes is at the forefront of Team Impact – an organization that aims to promote uplifting experiences for children, and provide life lessons for athletes outside of the classroom.
Seth Rosenzweig, Chief Executive Officer of Team Impact
, shares how this program is making a difference at vulnerable moments in children’s lives.
Ortiz: For children battling serious illness, life can be defined by medical treatments and visits to the doctor. One program aims to help kids and their families experience life beyond illness through relationships with college athletes. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Nathalia Ortiz. And with me to discuss efforts to boost the quality of life, both socially and psychologically for children with life-threatening or chronic illness is Seth Rosenzweig, chief executive officer of Team IMPACT. Seth, welcome.
Rosenzweig: Thank you for having me.
Ortiz: Seth, I wanted you to share the personal anecdote that you shared with us off-camera regarding why this is such an important mission for you and what inspired it.
Rosenzweig: Really, you know, we have so many great kids who are a part of this program. This is one example. Larry -- you know, he´s 15 or 16 years old now. He was born with every major organ outside of his body. Really wasn´t given a shot to even live and survive birth. He was -- has had over 100 surgeries. And, you know, really isolated. Homeschooled, didn´t have a lot of friends. Really struggling socially and emotionally. And we, you know, drafted him onto the University of Michigan football team. And I went out for his draft day with Coach Harbaugh and the team. Every child gets a draft day, where they sign their letter of intent, and there´s a media press conference hat begins about their two-year journey. And Larry came out of his shell. I mean, he´s lifting weights with the team, he´s going on games, practices, team dinners. First time he ever ran, in his life, was in front of 110,000 fans at The Big House. And really, it´s not only had impact on Larry but on his family and on this cohort of college athletes.
Ortiz: Tell me about, yeah, what it has done for the college athletes, ´cause we know what it´s -- it´s obvious that this is huge for Larry and for any child that goes through this. But what does it give the athletes that are actually working alongside them or with them?
Rosenzweig: I mean, we always knew that it had impact. I think what we´ve found through the years is that we´re really focused on empathy and civic-mindedness. So, how can we create more empathetic leaders and transform this generation of college athletes to not only leave with great values but also wanting to make a difference in their local communities, and given the fact that we´ve had over 50,000 college athletes be part of this program, the opportunity to leverage that to make a difference in the world is significant.
Ortiz: So, I know the ages go from 5 to 16 years of age. How long does the program last?
Rosenzweig: It´s a two-year program, and then we have an alumni program afterwards so they can stay connected, obviously, with their teams, but ultimately two years, and they´re interacting with a team about once a week.
Ortiz: How are the children recruited, or how do you spread the word?
Rosenzweig: So, that´s our biggest challenge right now. We´re a national organization. We´re in 48, almost 49, states as of next week, and our biggest opportunity is to find more kids -- courageous kids that are living with a serious or chronic illness. Right now, we work with pediatric hospitals, a lot of the camps that work with these kids. Honestly, word of mouth and the media is the top way we find our kids. So, the more that we can spread and we can find heroes that want to join teams, the better we´ll be. We have 1,200 teams waiting for these courageous kids.
Ortiz: So, I know you recently underwent some staffing structures -- restructures, I should say -- where you used to have former student athletes employed, and now you´re employing more social service -- clinically-trained social workers. Tell us about that and why that was important.
Rosenzweig: Yeah, so, we made two big shifts. I mean, the first thing was, in our -- the former student athletes are still engaged in other roles, but we really came to the point where we needed clinical backing to the work that we were doing. So, we hired a clinical director, and now the way that we manage each relationship to ensure quality, compliance, and impact is through licensed clinical social workers. And so they´re the ones working with the families and the teams -- you know, not to just have the great stories like Larry but to actually move the needle and to make sure that we´re having the impact that we want.
Ortiz: And so what sports are we talking about here? Does it run the gamut?
Rosenzweig: It could be -- Obviously, you heard about, you know, college football, but anywhere from synchronized swimming, field hockey, lacrosse, baseball -- really over 40-plus sports in all divisions -- Division I, Division II, and Division III.
Ortiz: Certainly there are physical challenges to these children, and they perhaps may not be able to do everything or to the degree that they´d like to do. How do you handle that?
Rosenzweig: Well, really, it´s about, you know -- everyone thinks it might be about the sport, but really it´s about the power of team.
Rosenzweig: And so, you know, many times, it´s not about playing a sport. It´s just about building relationships and having a team around you, while the child is empowered to teach these college athletes, many times, around, you know, perseverance and character and what a bad day really looks like. And so it´s a win-win if we do it right.
Ortiz: Wow. You´re making me teary-eyed. Thank you so much, Seth. Sounds like a beautiful organization and a mission.
Rosenzweig: Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Ortiz: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Nathalia Ortiz.