SHS Boys Basketball Works with CCMC

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Photos provided by the author
The SHS Varsity Basketball team poses outside the CCMC.

I wanted to take a moment to highlight a really great community service initiative that the SHS Boys Basketball program recently completed to benefit Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) and to discuss how others can donate to this great cause.


SHS Athletic Director Todd Zenczak does a really nice job encouraging all athletic teams at SHS to engage in service projects within the community. Many teams will hold fundraisers for specific causes or run sports clinics for younger age children in the Suffield community. Now, in my second season as the varsity basketball coach at SHS, I wanted to create a community initiative that both supported a great cause, and reinforced to my athletes how fortunate many of them are.

Having a 10-month-old baby at home, I have been to CCMC various times. During a visit to CCMC, I noticed that in one of the waiting rooms there were little gift bags for the children filled with items such as stickers, crayons and bubbles. These small items really made each child’s day as they entered the waiting room. I felt that supporting CCMC would be a great cause and valuable learning experience for our athletes.


When we held our team fundraiser this season, we pledged to give a percentage of all we raised to CCMC. Through the generosity of players’ families, SHS staff and members of the community, we were able to raise over $800 for the initiative.

We were able to contact one of the directors of the toy donation team at CCMC to discuss how we might be able to support them while also providing a personal experience for our athletes. One suggestion was for us to create “coping kits.” Coping kits provide distraction for children going through sometimes painful or scary medical procedures. The kits are filled with different toys and sensory items which reduce anxiety, promote deep breathing, and provide normalcy through play. These include items such as stress balls, pop-its, glitter wands, and light spinners.

There are three in-patient floors at CCMC, so each team in our program (freshmen, junior varsity and varsity) created their own personal coping kit, one for each floor. The teams also participated in a kit decorating contest using positive mental and physical health stickers. Pictures of each kit were posted on the team social media page and voted on by SHS students and our other online followers.

Another initiative to create a more personal connection for our athletes was to allow our senior class to design their own Build-A-Bears to donate to CCMC. This was an idea we took from the “Umps Care Charity Group” which has donated Build-A-Bears to hospitals throughout the country. We learned from the CCMC donation team that not only do Build-A-Bears provide comfort to children, but the Build-A-Bear boxes provide hours of play for children who like to color and decorate them. We were fortunate to have raised enough in our fundraiser to allow each of our eight seniors the ability to create their own Build-A-Bear to donate. We took a team trip with our senior class to the Holyoke mall one weekend, went to dinner, and they each created a bear.

Finally, with the remaining funds, we were able to purchase a Buzzy XL pain-free needle injector which is a device that uses both vibrations and cold therapy to reduce children’s fears of needle injection pain. This is another item that is often in high demand at the CCMC donation center.

Toy Warehouse Visit

In February, the boys had the opportunity to visit the CCMC toy donation warehouse in West Hartford to deliver their donations. They toured the warehouse, asked questions, and learned more about the facility and how the items they donated would directly impact the children of CCMC.

Seniors show off their Build a Bears which will be donated to CCMC.

This was a great learning experience for all the boys in the program. Senior Andrew Bombard had a very personal connection to this initiative, having volunteered at CCMC this past summer. He stated about the experience, “When I volunteered, it seemed like one of the most important things for the children getting treatment was the toy room because it was an environment away from things they might be afraid of or dislike. It was really cool to be a part of contributing to that environment through the fundraiser and to see the origin of some of the things those kids love the most.”

How to Support CCMC

One major takeaway from this experience was how CCMC is always in need of more toy donations. One of our players was surprised by how many toys were in the warehouse and asked the donation team how long these items would last. We were informed that during this time of the year, the warehouse is usually at its fullest, but due to the number of children coming in and out of CCMC, that this inventory of toys would only last for the next four months.

If you would like to help CCMC continue to stock their toy donation warehouse with gifts for children, below is a list of approved items often in need: bubbles, fleece blankets, stuffed animal, cardboard game, arts & crafts/STEM kits, playdoh, barbies, superhero action figures infant and toddler toy, animal/character figurines, LEGO, coloring books & crayons/sticker by number and matchbox cars.

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