Sac State athletes join cause to help children facing chronic illnesses

Paris Prado

Team IMPACT and Sacramento State have joined forces to help improve the lives of children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses. Team IMPACT believes in the power of a team, by drafting a child between the ages of 5–15 to become an official member of a team and student-athletes join the child’s support team.

Executive Director Duke Little, a previous collegiate swimmer, believes in this program and its ability to positively affect the child, their family and the teams involved.

The average time a child from team IMPACT gets drafted to the team and graduates is between two to three years, Little said.

“Within the two to three years what we are looking for is some sort of goal that mom or dad can provide the student-athletes to work toward and some of it is social, some is emotional and some of it can be physical,” Little said.

Kimberly Mata, the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee was introduced to the program at the Big Sky SAAC meeting over summer. At least five of Sacramento State’s teams have signed up to work with Team IMPACT, Mata said

“It’s an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than us,” Mata said.

The organization has been around for three and a half years and has tremendous potential, Little said.

“We have aspirations to grow this organization from coast to coast and match every team we can,” Little said.

The seven original founding members of Team IMPACT came together in 2011 and all were collegiate athletes. This program understands that these chronic illnesses either force a child to stop playing a sport, or never allow the child to experience playing a sport.

“To provide the opportunity for them to be a part of team and get those benefits was kind of the idea behind Team IMPACT,” Little said.

Nikki Gialketsis, one of the SAAC representatives for Sac State’s softball team, said her team has signed up to participate with Team IMPACT and the women are incredibly excited to get the opportunity to get to help a child with a life-altering disease.

The team is looking forward to having some fun and learning a lot in the process, Gialketsis said.

“I think it’ll be really cool because it will give us an experience of what the world is like for kids that need somebody,” Gialketsis said.

The organization has a specific relationship management method to help prepare both parties for the process.

This is to ensure the child and team have the best possible experience. All participants and families are also reviewed beforehand to make sure the program is for them. Once volunteers and child are matched, the team will go through training to learn what is expected.

Once a child is diagnosed, the entire family dynamic shifts and everyone is impacted, Little explained.

The organization is a family-oriented program that is focuses on the child with the disease but encourages any siblings who are involved in the match process to also participate in the activities, Little said.

Parents who are supporting their child going through a disease can use the program as time to take a moment to relax, Little added.

“They are able to, for whatever period of time, an hour or three hours, just take a breath, breathe and relax and watch their child who has been struggling through chemo therapy or surgery smile, relax and have a good time,” Little said.

Team IMPACT’s largest outreach is through hospitals, but many families also reach out themselves or are referred through friends. As of now, they are working with 293 schools and 575 kids in 43 states.

“We’ve built this program to be something that is sustainable and available and the benefits reach so many people,” Little said.

The program currently has more teams participating than children. Right now they are working on spreading the word to get more families involved and have 650 waiting to join, according to Little.

The amount of participating athletic teams is encouraging and shows the potential of the program. Little said the athletes who participate in Team IMPACT walk away with a different perspective on life.

“[The program offers athletes] life altering perspectives for the disease and medical community, and the desire to give back for the rest of their careers and life,” Little said.