Comedian Paula Poundstone famously observed, “Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up because they are looking for ideas.” It’s unclear if that was Millennial leader Sidney Kushner’s intention when he asked his young friend Andy that question. But Andy’s answer most definitely gave Sidney an idea.

Millennial LeadersDuring his sophomore year, Sidney Kushner was volunteering at a camp for kids who have cancer. He explains, “Andy was eleven years old and meeting him changed my life in so many ways.” When Andy spoke about growing up to be a baseball player, Kushner watched his eyes light up and his spirit lift. It seemed as if Andy forgot all about cancer as he answered the question. Kushner listened and for a moment Andy was just a kid again.

An idea began to take shape for Sidney. A simple conversation ignited a spark in Sidney’s soul. It became clear that role models are much more than just entertainment to sick kids. Sidney could see that to these kids, heroes are a reason to keep believing.

Leadership is Listening for Solutions

Kushner returned to Brown for his junior year knowing that he wanted to act on that soul spark. But he wasn’t sure exactly what he needed to do. So he spent time listening. He shadowed oncologists, worked with families battling cancer, and read everything he could about pediatric oncology. As he listened it became clear how he could help. There is great need for long-term social support through a patient’s cancer journey. Sidney Kushner recognized a need and envisioned CCChampions as a way of meeting it.

CCChampions is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports kids with cancer by facilitating 6-month-long friendships with the most inspirational people in Pittsburgh. Each friendship starts with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sidney and his team then find athletes, artists, policemen and others – some of the most inspirational people in the community and help make friendship connections.

Leadership is Converting Inspiration into Action

Jacob (10 years old) and his Boston Red Sox friend Brian Rose
Jacob (10 yrs old) and his Boston Red Sox friend Brian Rose

Getting started wasn’t easy though. Kushner explains, “When I came up with the idea for CCChampions, I was twenty years old. I had no connections in the sports world. No connections in hospitals and very few connections with families. And somehow I had to start.” He admits that even with an idea as heartwarming as his, he had quite a few doors slammed in his face.

So how did this college junior manage to convert his soul spark into a successful organization?

Early on, Sidney remembers relying on an important piece of advice from his father. He laughs as he explains, “My dad used to say, ‘There’s always someone out there smarter than you.’” Embracing that notion, Sidney discovered what he was being called to do. He knew he would never be the expert in the room. He wasn’t a celebrity, or a parent, or an oncologist or a patient. But what he could do was build a table to bring all of those brilliant minds together. He embraced his role and moved CCChampions from idea to reality.

Sidney admits, “Everyone at the table knows better than we do, and the best thing that we can do is listen to those people.” As a result every program that CCChampions runs and every value that they embrace is the result of careful research. The organization provides what it is asked to provide. Kushner knows the best thing he can do is be quiet and let the solution become obvious. He explains, “The better you understand a problem the more obvious the solution becomes.”

[inset width=”50%” float=”right”]

Three Ideas from Sidney Kushner
to Give You Momentum

  1. Soul Sparks Can Come from Unexpected Places
  2. There is Always Someone Out There That’s Smarter Than You
  3. The Better You Understand a Problem, The More Obvious the Solution Becomes

[/inset]Kushner believes CCChampions is a success because it is an organization that is listening rather than talking. By listening they’ve landed on an idea that is simple and well received. Doctors, nurses and social workers are excited to get involved because this long-term social support is widely needed. There are 13,500 U.S. children diagnosed with cancer every year. The good news is 85% of those patients survive. The bad news is 2 out of 3 childhood cancer survivors encounter severe long-term psychosocial side effects – including higher suicide rates, lower graduation rates and a reported diminished quality of life.

CCChampions believes that by providing meaningful long-term support to children with cancer those statistics will improve. The friendships they facilitate are part of the solution. As Sidney looks to the future he has expansion in mind. He hopes success in Pittsburgh will continue to open doors and enable his organization to ultimately connect with the 13,500 kids diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year.

To learn more about CCChampions and discover how you can get involved visit their website.