Isabella is a sweet, energetic, future ballerina! She absolutely loves dancing, so we thought that she and Patsy, a local ballet teacher, would make the perfect pair!
For their first adventure, Patsy and Isabella visited behind the scenes at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of Alice and Wonderland. Isabella could hardly contain her excitement as they toured backstage, and she was equally thrilled to watch the performance!
Patsy visits Isabella whenever she comes to Children’s for treatment. The two ballerinas spend their visits in the playroom, doing puzzles, playing make believe, and dancing! Isabella has so much excitement when Patsy visits, it’s clear that it is the best part about her time in the hospital!
Vic began interning with CCChampions as a Friendship Assistant in 2016.
Q: How would you describe your role as Friendship Assistant?
A: I would describe my role as a friend. I am there to support during both the good and the bad times, to always encourage positivity, and to hopefully help them cope and understand while just letting them be kids at the same time.
Q: What is your favorite thing about interning with CCChampions?
A: My favorite thing about interning with CCChampions is interacting with the children and their families at the hospital. It’s so fun watching the friendships grow and how each child lights up when someone from the CCChampions team walks in the door!
Q: Can you tell me about a moment you've had with one of our kids that really stood out to you?
A: One moment that really stood out to me was at the end of one of our kids’ appointment. She was getting ready to be discharged to go home, but we were playing in the playroom and she asked her mom if she could stay and play. This is really special to me because it shows that I was able to make her feel comfortable in a setting that can be scary for a child.
Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: When I was little I knew I wanted to work with kids when I grew up. I was always torn between being a teacher or a stay at home mom.
Q: What are your post-CCChampions plans?
A: I plan to graduate with my master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 2018. After graduation, I plan to become a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) and obtain a job as a CCLS at a children’s hospital.
Q: Why do you think CCChampions is important?
A: I love everyone who is part of the CCChampions team! They are all very passionate and genuine about helping kids. I think the organization provides a very valuable service to the community. CCChampions has really made a positive impact on my life and I believe it has made a positive impact on the lives of many children in the community as well!
Read Vic's bio here.
Haley is a founding member of CCChampions Young Professional Advisory Board. She wanted to share her story and what CCChampions means to her.
I was 16 when I heard the words “you have ovarian cancer.” In what felt like a whirlwind, I was one tumor and one ovary lighter. Upon discharge from the hospital after my surgery, I felt isolated from most of my high school peers, who just could not relate to my experience. Outside of my parents, I was largely without a support system. I decided at that moment that I wanted to change healthcare for patients with difficult diagnoses so that they’d never have to feel like I did.
Fast forward eight years later and here I am – a data analyst and quality improvement professional working in behavioral health. As rewarding as my job is, I do not engage a lot with patients. However, healthcare facilities need more professionals like me who understand what it’s like to be sick because, unfortunately, most clinicians only know how to treat their patients physically, not emotionally. This simple truth is why CCChampions is so important to youth at Children’s Hospital who may struggle to cope with their illnesses.
I am an active volunteer with CCChampions because I know that 16-year-old-me would have benefitted greatly from its work, and I want to give kids today that opportunity. It has been the most fulfilling volunteer experience of my life.
By: Nicole Destefano and Isabela Tetino, Little Champ Role Models
When we first met Avery in January, we knew she would have us wrapped around her little finger in no time. We had heard wonderful things about Avery from Sidney, Jen, and Coy prior to meeting her for the first time and we were beyond excited to meet her. Just as Jen had advised us, we showed up that day ready for Barbies, board games, and manicures—all of Avery’s favorite things.
At first, Avery was clearly nervous to meet us (and we were just as nervous to meet her too!), but within minutes she was chatting up a storm and showing us all of the toys in her room. During that hour and a half, I think we managed to play with every toy in Avery’s room. From Hello Kitty bingo, Candy Land, and her Doc McStuffins veterinary set, Avery succeeded in keeping us busy the entire time we were there.
At the end of our first visit, Jen asked Avery if it was okay for us to come back and play again and Avery immediately answered yes. We couldn’t wait for next Wednesday to see what else she had in store for us.
However, due to conflicting schedules, we were unable to see Avery for a few weeks. When we finally had the chance to go back, we felt nervous all over again. Would Avery still remember all the fun we had a few weeks ago?
As soon as we walked into her room, it was obvious that Avery was just as excited for us to be back as we were. We started our morning with Go Fish and Candy Land and Avery showed us all of her awesome new birthday presents.
Then Jen brought out the nail polish and we spent the rest of our morning at Avery’s personal nail salon. She even managed to convince her dad to get a manicure! Once again, an hour and a half flew by and Avery managed to keep us busy and laughing for every second.
It is truly an honor to be involved in an organization as amazing as CCChampions. Of course our main goal is to allow Avery to have time to just be like any other normal kid, but in a way, Avery has reminded us how to be a kid again too! We are definitely wrapped around her little finger and we spend each week waiting for our Wednesday morning play dates.
By: Copley Fry, Friendship Assistant
Before Easter, I had to the opportunity to meet Aiden and his mom while they were in for a short stay at CHP. Leading up to my visit, I had heard many wonderful things about Aiden from Jen, Coy, and Sidney. Needless to say, I was very excited to get to go play with him!
Before we got to the hospital Jen told me all about Aiden, his love for WWE, and what a little ball of energy he is. We weren't in the room for more than a minute and it was evident that this little boy LOVES WWE as much as I was told. How did I know this? He began to use the Easter Bunny crafts we brought for him as WWE action figures, body slams and all.
Seeing Aiden laugh as I pretended my bunny had been kicked off the bed and on to floor definitely brought a smile to my face. "Boys will be boys" is definitely the expression that comes to my mind when I think of Aiden!
Once our bunnies were done taking a beating (literally, some of the bunnies were down to no ears!) Jen pulled "Where's Waldo?" out of her backpack-- one of Aiden's favorites.
Aiden flipped through "Where's Waldo?" and found Waldo before I did on almost every page. Which left me speechless because I had just gotten schooled by a six year old!
After we found Waldo, two times through to be exact, we played a couple rounds of matching. I was again blown away when I asked him how many matches he had found and he counted them for me with ease, all the way to eight.
I'm always so amazed when I get to meet the boys and girls of CCChampions and Aiden is no exception. His mom told us about how well he is doing school and that he is becoming quite the ladies man among the girls in kindergarten (not to my surprise, of course).
It's moments like these that make me realize how lucky I am to be involved with CCChampions. It's so fulfilling to know that an hour of "Where's Waldo?" and WWE, Easter Bunny addition, put a smile on Aiden's face and made him giggle the entire time.
But what's even more amazing is that a six-year-old can leave me smiling ear to ear just by being himself.
By: Copley Fry, Friendship Assistant
The first time I met Angelika she was waking up from a lumbar puncture. She was a little disoriented from the anesthesia, asking her mom the same five questions on a loop. There wasn’t a moment where she was actually quiet. I could clearly see that this little girl had a huge personality-- despite still being under the effects of anesthesia.
As she came to, my co-volunteer Courtney and I got around to asking her some questions, getting to know her better. We learned that Angelika LOVES the Food Network (it is always on when we visit her), her favorite animals are unicorns (yes- even though they’re fictional they still count), and you better be prepared for her to crush you in a game of Candy Land!!
Just seeing how excited Angelika becomes when we ask her these simple questions truly makes me smile. I’m so thankful that CCChampions has given me the opportunity to make such a difference in someone’s life, allowing me to help Angelika be a kid again.
Over the next few months while Angelika is continuing her treatments, I hope to continue to get to know her better. As I said before, Angelika has such a big personality, especially for a nine-year-old, and I can’t wait to watch it unfold further. I anticipate many more games of Headbanz and Candy Land, but I also hope that we are able to spend time outside of the hospital too. Since she is such a fan of the Food Network, the idea of watching her cook or even cook with her excite me.
On our second visit, we made unicorn horns out of construction paper and pipe-cleaners and decorated them to make Angelika smile when she was not feeling so well during a treatment, and it worked! I leave my unicorn horn in my car so I always have it with me when I go to visit her. It also serves as a constant reminder of how far a smile, some creative thinking, and optimism can take you.
By: Amit Shimshi, Little Champ Role Model
This Fall I had the pleasure of hanging out with Chris at the Ronald McDonald House. Coy and I visited Chris every Friday, and every week was more fun than the previous one! Chris’ outgoing, feisty personality shown through in our intense games of Word on the Street. But of course, Coy and I did not let Chris win easily… We fought our way to victory several times (although I’m pretty sure Chris ended up being the overall champion). Despite our hard-earned wins, Chris outwitted Coy and I with his unique and creative vocabulary choices.
Every week sparked a new conversation with Chris. I especially enjoyed learning about Chris favorite outdoors-y things to do with his family and friends. His passion for the outdoors helped him get the upper hand on Coy and I in our games of Word on Street, and I even learned some fishing jargon! Throughout our time together, Chris, Coy, and I did so many fun things like watching silly reality TV shows and sharing Halloween candy (but not the Starburst, those are Chris’ favorite!)
Visiting Chris quickly became the highlight of my week. During a tough semester, knowing that I have a friend who is looking forward to my visit helped me pull through with a positive attitude. I remember a particular week in which I had four exams and lots of stress… Knowing that I was going to laugh with Chris and Coy after all of the craziness at school made me feel so much better and motivated me to remember that there will be many fun moments coming up! I am so thankful for Chris and Coy and our time together—Chris showed me what a real champion is like!
by Sidney Kushner
Every month, the staff at CCChampions gets together for a "Developmental Retreat." At these half-day retreats, we talk about all of our friendships and ask questions like, "If I could remember only one moment from this friendship, it would be..."
When I asked this question to my coworker Jen about Ja'Naya's friendship, we got an unexpected answer:
"That time Justin Bieber got a Duck Tape Makeover."
You see, 12-year-old Ja'Naya loves making Duck Tape creations (no, not duct tape, DUCK tape) with her role model friend Ally. Every time Ja'Naya's in the hospital, Ally visits her and they do all sort of activities like making Duck Tape flowers, painting fingernails, and everything in between.
But one time when Ally & Jen visited Ja'Naya, she had a special surprise for us. Her Barbie & Justin Bieber Barbie were getting ready for Prom, but they had a problem -- they didn't have the right outfits! So Ja'Naya made them head-to-toe Duck Tape outfits. Totally from scratch.
Do you see the bow on Barbie's dress? Ja'Naya's not fooling around!
As soon as Jen shared these pictures with us, we looked up Duck Tape, and a light bulb went off. The company who makes Duck Tape, Shurtech, was one of CCChampions' sponsors for the March to Friendship way back in 2014!
We were brainstorming ways to say "Thank You," and Ja'Naya suggested making them a Duck Tape wallet & writing them a thank you letter!
Moments like these are so overwhelming to me.
When a kid is diagnosed with cancer, everyone wants to give him or her the whole world. It's incredible to see a community come together like that, but our parents tell us how hard it is, at times like these, to teach their kids the importance of giving back. Giving back shows our kids that they have something to give, even during their darkest of days. And it reminds them that we're all in this together. What a powerful boost to our kids' self-esteem.
So when Ja'Naya offered to make something for Shurtech, we thought it was a special moment -- one that we never want to forget.
And guess what? Shurtech sent an AWESOME thank you gift to Ja'Naya!
Thank you, Shurtech, for making Ja'Naya's time in the hospital so much easier, and for giving her an opportunity to give back in such a powerful way!
By Jen Lutz, Friendship Champion
An afternoon of game after game of Uno is a surefire way to become fast friends with someone new. Well, at least that’s how it happened with 13 year old Lacey.
Initially, Lacey seemed shy and reluctant to spend time with me. Nonetheless, in hopes of breaking the ice, I asked her if she’d like to play a game of Uno and that was practically all it took. From there, things quickly got competitive and full of giggles.
We began trash talking and victory dancing, as any good Uno players should. Toward the end of our afternoon, I told Lacey about CCChampions and the work we do. I finished my explanation by asking Lacey what she’d like to be when she grows up. Lacey shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” I offered some suggestions and Lacey simply shrugged again. So then it was my turn to do some thinking.
I realized that perhaps Lacey didn’t need a role model as far as a future occupation, but maybe she needed some new friends and something to look forward to during her lengthy stays in the hospital. I asked Lacey if it would be okay if I brought some fun people with me the next time I visited. Lacey quickly agreed to that idea.
Shortly thereafter, I introduced Lacey to Erica and Caroline. They are two incredibly fun, energetic, and hilarious nursing students from The University of Pittsburgh. Erica and Caroline are strong Uno players, but that isn’t all they have in common with Lacey.
The girls love to chit-chat about all things pop culture and so does Lacey. Since their first meeting they’ve spent hours talking, sharing their opinions, and giggling about movies, books, television shows, award shows, and YouTube videos. Often, Erica retells and even reenacts many of the fun things she sees on television for Lacey and, of course, lots more giggling occurs.
According to Lacey’s family and nurses, when a visit with Erica and Caroline is planned, she makes sure everyone knows she will be busy with her friends that day. Also, when hospital staff comes into Lacey’s room while the girls are visiting their typical reaction is, “Whoa, looks like a party is going on in here!” With so many smiles and so much giggling, undoubtedly, when the three of these girls are together it feels like a party!
By Coy Thompson, Friendship Champion
this is a quick update on our previous post about Bryce's friendship called "Will we still be friends?" which can be found HERE!
Six year old Bryce has been part of the CCChampions family since late last summer. Because of Bryce’s love of baseball he was matched with Dan and PJ, two Pitt Baseball players. They "hit it off" immediately (ba-dum-bump), and over the course of several subsequent visits I was able to see their friendship steadily grow.
A few weeks ago I was all set to take Dan and PJ to see Bryce during a recent hospital stay when I learned that Dan had gotten a slight injury.
During practice, he was hit in the face with baseball and would not be able to come. When Bryce heard what had happened he immediately started thinking of how he could help Dan feel better. He finally settled on painting him a picture.
Dan loved the picture, and is happy to report that he's back in school and at practice again! They're already planning the next time they get to visit Bryce and have him come to one of their baseball games!
Often when I explain to people how we and our volunteers help our kids and families the word mentorship is often used.
I feel this story helps to illustrate that the best word to describe what we do is actually “friendships.” And like all healthy friendships they travel in both directions.
This small, yet amazing gesture illustrates something really important to our culture at CCChampions:
While volunteers may walk into that room ready to be a role model or mentor, they end up walking out of that room with a once-in-a-lifetime friendship.