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Penn men's basketball with Team IMPACT (Photo courtesy of Erin Sullivan).

Penn athletes are working with Team IMPACT to support children with serious illnesses or disabilities achieve their health goals.

Team IMPACT — a national organization founded in 2011 — aims to provide a healthy environment for children with a serious illness or disability to thrive in. Team IMPACT pairs children who are a part of the organization with local college sports teams. 

Each child and their family receive specific health and wellness goals to work on during their time with the program. The children are integrated into the collegiate teams they're paired with, joining practices and team activities. Team IMPACT has facilitated 2,847 matches across 752 college campuses, including the University of Pennsylvania.

"Team IMPACT is huge in Penn Athletics and has been a part of the community for a long time," Erin Sullivan, a College Junior and Team IMPACT fellow with Penn Lacrosse, said. 

Penn women's lacrosse with Team IMPACT (Photo courtesy of Erin Sullivan).

Sports teams looking to join Team IMPACT are put on a list while the organization reviews the registered children and families to find compatible matches based on criteria like age, gender, shared values, and personal objectives. The organization's social workers play a key role in this matching process.

Penn collaborates with the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania to connect children with the University's athletic teams. 

When a child is matched, they are welcomed onto the team during a "signing day" ceremony, committing to be a team member. The partnerships between the children and teams generally last for two years, though many continue their relationships with the organization afterward, Sullivan said.

"Kids don't get a sense of being on a team because of disabilities or treatment," Sullivan said. "Team IMPACT lets them be part of something bigger."

Penn softball with Team IMPACT (Photo courtesy of Erin Sullivan).

Madison Bauerle, a College Junior on Penn's softball team and one of the six Team IMPACT fellows, said she was paired with a child during her first year and immediately developed a strong "sibling bond."

"It's nice to have someone always cheering me on," Bauerle said, highlighting that Team IMPACT encourages student-athletes to step out of the "Penn bubble" and gain new perspectives by engaging with the community.

In the past 18 months, Team IMPACT at Penn has matched children and athletes from various teams, including men's soccer, women's soccer, baseball, and gymnastics.