Team IMPACT Aims to Make Bigger Ripples in College Communities

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Team IMPACT Colleges
Photo Courtesy Team IMPACT

Team IMPACT has already connected 1,700 children to more than 600 schools and 50,000 student-athletes, but there are even bigger plans on the horizon for the nonprofit that works to alter children’s lives.

Team IMPACT  began with the goal of influencing the lives of children suffering from chronic or life-threatening illnesses, with an eye toward creating a ripple effect within their communities. Team IMPACT partners a child aged 5-through-16 with an athletic team for at least two years to help increase their confidence and reduce stresses like anxiety, depression and social isolation that often accompany their illnesses.

Founded in 2011 by Dan Kraft and Jay Calnan, the organization has come a long way, and now Team IMPACT CEO Seth Rosenzweig said it’s time to elevate the program’s mission to the next level.

“We’ve done a lot to evolve the program from a nice organization to a truly impactful one,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s in our name, so we should be able to live by it.”

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To that end, the organization now has three target populations: the children, their families and college athletics. For the children, the program hopes to build confidence and establish a sense of belonging. For families, it’s meant to decrease anxiety and foster a supportive environment. The athletes, meanwhile, are taught empathy and civic mindfulness.

“If we do it right, we get a win-win-win,” Rosenzweig said.

Children are matched with teams throughout the year, with visits at games and hospitals several times during the season as well as during the offseason. The University of Michigan drafted Larry Prout, who became a national story and Team IMPACT’s most visible effort in 2017. Prout is a perfect example of how the children become part of the team and affect an entire collegiate community.

“They really become family,” University of Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel said. “They become a part of the team. And when you’re a student-athlete and you think things are so hard in life, it just puts it in perspective and just helps our student-athletes understand that their connection and the way that they give to the community is so important.”

Overall, Team IMPACT Director of Programs Amy VanRyn said there are nearly 1,500 NCAA and NAIA schools the program potentially can partner with to become a default piece of the athletic program.

“The approach we’ve taken is holistic,” VanRyn said. “We want to build a relationship with an entire campus as much as we can.”

VanRyn believes that, as Team IMPACT’s mission becomes ingrained in a school’s athletic community, it will continue to build organically as a piece of the program’s culture. Schools like Merrimack, UMass-Lowell and UConn all have nearly a dozen children matched every year.

“Once the baseball team is matched, the softball team wants it,” she said. “The competitive nature of athletes hasn’t once hurt us. That’s really how the partnerships on a campus-level start.”

VanRyn says the next step is at the conference level. Team IMPACT announced a partnership with the East Coast Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference on Tuesday, who will undertake a “combined effort” to support the organization annually.

“This is a great opportunity for our lacrosse-playing schools to highlight our men’s contests, bring some more attention to Division II Men’s Lacrosse and contribute to Team IMPACT, an outstanding organization that is helping so many young people across the country,” East Coast Commissioner Robert Dranoff said in a statement.

Team IMPACT has also launched a fellowship program for its student-athletes through Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. VanRyn hopes the program can serve as both professional and personal development opportunities for student-athletes who miss internships and study abroad opportunities while in-season. The fellowship program will also grow Team IMPACT’s influence, she said, and potentially foster more inter-campus and inter-conference collaborations.

An inter-school partnership of sorts has already emerged, as Merrimack and UMass-Lowell have established an annual home-and-home hockey series for the Team IMPACT families. “A lot of these families identify within a disease community or a hospital,” VanRyn said. “This gives them a different community to be a part of.”

Increasing the organization’s geographic footprint might be its greatest goal of all. Originally founded in Boston, Team IMPACT’s presence is still largely restricted to the Northeast. Rosenzweig said a large majority of the funding comes from the Boston area, including its annual Game Day Gala, which brings supporters like New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and wide receiver Julian Edelman and University of Michigan men’s basketball head coach John Beilein.

Rosenzweig hopes to take Team IMPACT national with an eventual $60 million budget, which would represent a massive increase over its current $5.5 million number, which itself is a sizable step up from its $1.25 million operating budget in 2015-16. The target budget includes $2,500 per child for Team IMPACT’s 3,000-child goal by 2022, with an eye toward continued growth.

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To do that, Rosenzweig knows the organization likely needs to look at diversifying and increasing its corporate, university and medical institution partnerships. Team IMPACT has also piloted four regional staffing infrastructure plans in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia. Within the next five years, he’d like to add seven regions, including Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Denver and Kansas City or St. Louis, with the growth then projecting into sub-regions.

“We’re at an exciting moment as an organization,” he said.

It’s an ambitious one, too. But Team IMPACT is ready to live up to its name.