BOSTON - Team IMPACT celebrated 10 years of helping kids with serious illness or disability at a gala Thursday night. The local non-profit has paired 2300 children with more than 700 college sports teams.
It's been quite an accomplishment, but the mission is just as important now as when it was launched.
"I love being part of the team because it makes me feel like I'm welcomed, and I can forget about everything that I have to go through in the real world," said 10-year-old Daniela Ciriello, who has to have a blood transfusion every three weeks.
"I have thalassemia major, where I have red blood cells that don't work like regular people," she said.
She gets through it with an inspiring amount of courage, but also with some friends. Team IMPACT paired Daniela with the UConn Women's Basketball team three years ago.
"They have invited her to their dorm rooms. They have chicken nuggets and fries. They took her pumpkin picking; they have taken her for ice cream," said Nicole Ciriello, Daniela's mom.
"She's been the light of my life," said UConn basketball player Kyla Irwin. "Someone I've been so thankful to go on this journey with."
That's the key, these aren't temporary, transactional relationships. There's permanence and authenticity.
"For everyone involved this is a life-changing relationship," said Team IMPACT co-founder Jay Calnan. "It's not a weekend, it's not a season."
Take for example Kyle Skakale. He got paired with Johns Hopkins Lacrosse.
"It feels like I'm actually part of the team," Kyle said.
Best of all, the benefit goes both ways.
"Just seeing the impact of what Kyle deals with, the day-to-day aspect," said Mark Skakale, Kyle's father. "Then the college kids seeing that and seeing the struggles that he has. It's like a mutual benefit."
The community steps up as well. The gala at the Agganis Arena is expected to raise $2.5 million.
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