Living with a chronic, life-threatening illness can be as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. It’s even more difficult for children, as emotional, stressful and frustrating situations - frequent trips to the doctor, lengthy hospitalizations and daily life limitations - can interfere with building and maintaining friendships. With the quality of life of these pediatric patients in mind, Tufts Children's Hospital joined forces with startup company Team IMPACT in 2011. Over the past two years, the partnership has created joy and fostered hope in the lives of children who had neither.
Team IMPACT is a Boston-based non-profit organization that connects chronically ill children with college sports teams. The teams “adopt” the children and work to make them feel special by developingt a sense of acceptance, belonging, friendship and connection to something completely different than their medical experiences. The child is “drafted” onto the sports team, attends practices, gets tickets to games, receives team apparel, and takes part in team functions and activities. Any child who is going through continuous medical issues is eligible to participate; this way, the child can be a part of the team for the long-term.
“It’s really a mentorship for the kids, like big brother/big sister, but in a social, team environment,” said Director of Child Life Services Andrea Pappaconstantinou. “Many of these kids are not able to be part of a sports team due to safety or endurance issues or because of physical limitations. Team IMPACT is totally inclusive in providing a self-esteem boost and a sense of accomplishment for these kids.”
Tufts Children's Hospital currently has eight pediatric patients involved with various sports teams at UMass Boston, Boston College, Assumption, Bentley, Merrimack and Stonehill. One young girl was named the official captain of the UMass-Boston women’s ice hockey team and was included in the team photo. Recently, the team arranged for her to throw out the first pitch at a UMass baseball game and has enlisted her help with the screening of new freshman to be picked for the team. The team always sends her well-wishes and care packages when she is in the hospital.
“I can’t put into words how much the experience means to her,” said Pappaconstantinou. “It couldn’t have been a more perfect match. She is chatty and outgoing and thrives off social interaction. Being part of the team provides her with a level of respect and helps her feel good about herself.”
In just over two years, Team IMPACT has expanded across the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest, with hundreds of children joining hundreds of college sports teams. College teams are continuously contacting Team IMPACT looking for kids with an interest in the school or a particular sport, sometimes with demand exceeding the supply. Pappaconstantinou says she is always looking for good candidates who would benefit most from the program.