The Power of a Team: Fostering Resilience in Children with Serious Illness
with Seth Rosenzweig of Team IMPACT
JP Bemberger, a teenager from Kansas battling cancer, was paired with the University of Kansas men’s basketball team through Team IMPACT, an organization that matches kids facing serious illness with college athletic programs.
Seth Rosenzweig, CEO of Team IMPACT, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the mutually beneficial relationship between children and college sports teams, which can complement a child’s medical treatment by fostering a sense of belonging, empowerment, and resilience.
Feb 27, 2023
Anderson: JP Bemberger is a teenager from Lenexa, Kansas. He's battling Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of pediatric cancer. While his battle has been tough, he's found a whole team of support thanks to the University of Kansas men's basketball team. He was matched with the team thanks to a program that aims to create an environment where every child facing serious illness and disability feels supported, creating a long term, life changing experience for everyone involved. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Being a true member of a team can foster a sense of normalcy, optimism and belonging. Joining me to talk all about this is Seth Rosenzweig, CEO of Team IMPACT, and Team IMPACT's unique multi-layer program is designed to help kids and their families across the country experience life beyond illness. And, Seth, thank you so much for being here.
Rosenzweig: Thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: So we just heard a little bit about JP, but I'm hoping you can get into a little bit more of his story because he's really the example of why what you're doing is working.
Rosenzweig: He is, and I think obviously winning a championship, national championship is a nice outcome that came from this. But I think the journey is what matters. You know, he's a kid now, 18 years old. He was matched when he was 16, who is obviously going through a battle with cancer but had all of these, you know, effects, in terms of his ability to go to school, his ability to play sports, and he really was feeling isolated and obviously had some medical complications where he couldn't walk. He had a real struggle physically as well. And this team basically lifted him up. I mean, if you think about it, he's -- actually, his middle name is Phog, which is named for the University of Kansas Stadium -- Phog Arena. And so this was a perfect match that he grew up kind of loving Kansas basketball. And so for him, it's really given him a team of support around him. They've motivated him, they've given him inspiration, they pushed him to his limits to make sure he's following all of his medical protocols, and the same time, as Coach Q, their Director of Operations has said, they wouldn't have won a national championship if it wasn't for JP and Team IMPACT.
Anderson: So, this isn't just a good idea, I mean, this is actually a therapeutically sound approach to healing. What are parents telling you about what they're seeing in their children, the changes?
Rosenzweig: I think the biggest statement that we get every time is we feel like we have our kids back. And that's something that when you're you're going through these challenges, in terms of medical, clinical care, et cetera, you're, you know, you're really focused on that care. How do you ensure that you can still be a family unit? How can you ensure that a child can still be a child? And how do you provide them with a therapeutic approach that still allows them to be fun, but make sure that they're following their protocols, they're building confidence, they're feeling a sense of belonging at times when, you know, they don't have a lot more -- a lot of more focus besides their medical care.
Anderson: And speaking of medical, what are the medical benefits of this? Because there are some.
Rosenzweig: Yeah. I mean, I think what we've seen so far is that, one, there's a lot of data out there that mental health and social and emotional support and the kind of psychosocial care matters to complement the traditional clinical care they get at a hospital. So the other thing that we see through our program is medical compliance. So following their medical protocols and, you know, whether they don't want to, you know, if they don't want do their therapies, if the team tells them to do their physical therapy and does it with them, they're going to do it. So kind of compliance, which obviously can lead to better medical outcomes, is definitely something that we promote in our programs. So health promotion in general is part of the experience, and we have clinicians that are facilitating these relationships.
Anderson: Well, this is actually based on a clinical model really to build confidence, to build independence. What does that model look like?
Rosenzweig: Really what it is, you know, we work with their medical team, the child's medical team and their family to kind of develop an individualized game plan for that child. The focus really is a multi-year journey that they're building towards the outcomes to complement their care that they're getting in a hospital. So in some ways, we're an extension of the care team in a hospital, providing the social and emotional support needed for each child. And what we see is that, you know, we see that we focus on optimism, we focus on staying positive, we focus on battling through the illness. And at the same time, these kids are empowered to not just be defined by their illness, but to teach these student athletes and have a purpose besides their illness, to teach student athletes about grit, about perspective, about what a bad day looks like, and how do you persevere, empathy and being civic minded. And so that's the special thing, is that everyone wins. So the child does not just feel like he or she is receiving something, but they're also giving.
Anderson: And you talked about purpose, and there has been criticism in the world of professional sports that sometimes athletes aren't ready to shoulder the burden of significant wealth. They're not ready to shoulder the burden of being a role model. What are these student athletes actually getting when it comes to learning about higher purpose and how to carry that into the future?
Rosenzweig: So I think that in some ways we hear from the student athletes that we get way more out of this program than what we put in. And I think that's really about experiential impact, in terms of giving back. So empathy and civic mindedness and, you know, increased perspective and even bringing their team closer together to remember what's important in life. It may not be about that goal that you didn't score or the game that you lost. It's about life. And I think that that's something that, through our experience, you can't really teach in a classroom. And so that's a special part of our program.
Anderson: So, I know our viewers are going to want to know a lot more about what you do. What's the website?
Rosenzweig: To join our team or find out more, refer a child, please visit teamimpact.org.
Anderson: Seth Rosenzweig of Team IMPACT, thank you so much for being here.
Rosenzweig: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to you as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.