Connecting Champions Awarded $125,000 Grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation
Support to fund career-based mentors for young people undergoing cancer treatment
KD Sunday Spotlight: Connecting Champions lets cancer patients pursue their passions
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In this week’s KD Sunday Spotlight, a local non-profit is helping children and young adults with cancer pursue their passion.
Since 2011, Connecting Champions has asked these individuals, “what are you passionate about?”
Founder and executive director Sidney Kushner said then they pair them with a mentor in the field, so they can get a hands-on experience, virtually and in-person.
The organization has mentors from more than 50 professions ranging from veterinarians to chefs to artists.
Kushner said this special friendship helps children and young adults better survive their cancer journey, developmentally, psychosocially and physically.
Connecting Champions Celebrates a Decade of Friendships with a Toast to 10 Years
Evidence-based mentor program marks its 10th anniversary
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Oct. 25, 2021) Connecting Champions, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that provides mentorship and friendship to child and young adult cancer patients across the nation, is celebrating its anniversary with a virtual event highlighting a decade of connecting hundreds of children and young adults with a mentor. The Toast to 10 Years will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m with a virtual celebration.
Connecting Champions asks kids and young adults diagnosed with cancer, “What are you passionate about?” and then partners them with a mentor who shares their passion. The program at Connecting Champions is evidence-based and outcomes-driven to help children overcome severe social isolation and focus on what comes beyond cancer. Since its beginning in 2011, the organization has matched more than 300 kids and young adults with a mentor. As of 2021, Connecting Champions has expanded beyond Pittsburgh and has made friendships possible in more than 15 cities.
“When I started Connecting Champions a decade ago, I saw a need to provide support and friendship to young people going through the cancer journey,” said Sidney Kushner, Founder & Executive Director, Connecting Champions. “We are incredibly proud to have connected so many cancer patients with mentors in everything from zoology to ghost hunting to cosmetology and more.”
To celebrate this milestone, Connecting Champions will bring together program participants and their families, donors, mentors and more to celebrate the accomplishments of the organization. Each participant will receive a “mystery toast box” at their doorstep, including a fancy drink, pastry, and other mystery items for the whole family. Attendees can purchase a ticket to the event to recieve their own mystery toast box. Those who cannot attend, can also make a donation at connectingchampions.com/donate.
Sean Nolan and Katie White-Montgomery, two teen cancer survivors and Connecting Champions alumni, will emcee the virtual celebration. For more information, please visit connectingchampions.com/toast.
On Saturday, June 12, Connecting Champions Executive Director Sidney Kushner and I had the pleasure of presenting and leading a discussion at Stupid Cancer’s annual CancerCon. In our 60-minute discussion titled “Find Your Passion: Recentering School & Career Goals After Cancer.” we got the chance to talk to young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer about the difficulties of balancing work and treatments as well as developing a plan to find a passion and return to school and work following cancer treatments.
The first 10-15 minutes of our presentation was devoted to introducing ourselves to the 20+ people that joined in on the discussion. I was able to talk a little about my cancer journey as well as my friendship and mentorship with Joe Block, play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sidney and I then engaged in an intimate conversation regarding when I was undergoing chemo treatments and how being unable to go to school affected my plans for the future. I told Sidney how crucial Joe was during my treatments because I was able to ask him questions about the sports broadcasting field in addition to how to better myself for a future in sports broadcasting. We then split the CancerCon participants into breakout rooms of 4-5 people and gave them 20 minutes to intimately discuss their passions, what those without a cancer diagnosis don’t truly understand, and what they are worried about falling behind in, whether it be in life or from a professional standpoint.
Following the breakout rooms, all of the participants were brought back together to discuss what they talked about in their groups. We discussed how fatigue can affect completing a job and how important communication with a boss or coworkers is when returning to work following cancer treatments. Sidney then led the group by telling the steps of how to find mentors in the field of interest and how to reach out to them. Using music as our example, we presented how to find jobs in a specific field, how to use LinkedIn, and what to say when reaching out to a potential mentor. We concluded our presentation by sharing ways to reach out to Connecting Champions.
Overall, our presentation at Stupid Cancer’s Digital CancerCon was very enjoyable and successful. We were able to discuss topics that are very important in the cancer community and bring members of the cancer community together!
We were honored as an “Exceptional Innovation” by WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital!
We just launched at WVU six months ago, and to be honored in their 2020 Annual Report is incredibly humbling. Shoutout to our WV Program Coordinator Sloane for all her incredible work with the kids and young adults! She is a wonderful talent and an especially kind soul.
Sean and Joe’s friendship was featured in NEXT Pittsburgh!
Our Founder Sidney Kushner was honored in Pittsburgh’s Inaugural class of 30 under 30!
Heroes Among Us
On January 9th, 2013, our founder Sidney was honored as a “Hero Among Us” by the Boston Celtics.
Every home game, the Boston Celtics honor an individual “who has made an overwhelming impact on the lives of others.” When Sidney found out he was going to be honored, he immediately asked if he could bring a young kid with cancer onto the court with him. They of course said yes, and so Sidney & KJ, 10, marched right onto center court to accept the award in front of a standing ovation of 18,000 fans. KJ, a die-hard Celtics fan, had never been to a Celtics game before. And on this day, he was right on center court next to his ultimate heroes.
It was one of the most inspiring moments in our entire lives.
Or contact Friendship@ConnectingChampions.org / 412.376.3755