COVER STORY: Jordan (Sheridan) Zapisek, founder, On My Team16

Jordan Sheridan Zapisek has always had a charitable disposition.

“I’ve always had kind of a philanthropic side to me since high school,” Jordan said.

A 2013 graduate of Christian Brothers Academy, Jordan started her own charity drives while she was in high school. Her Strike Out Hunger Campaign from 2011-13 raised just over $25,000 for the Samaritan Center by collecting donations from her friends and family — over the school’s objections — for every strike she threw on the softball team. At St. Lawrence University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in business and communications in 2017, Jordan chaired two Relay for Life events, lead a fundraising campaign for a new building at the Potsdam Children’s Museum and interned at the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

But the endeavor she’s most proud of — the nonprofit to which she now dedicates all her time — came to be in the wake of a cancer diagnosis for her younger brother, Jack.

“I always wanted to move away and do my own thing, create my own path,” Jordan said, “but something like that wants you to keep your family together and stay close.”

 

Jack’s diagnosis

Jack was diagnosed May 29, 2014, when he was 15.

“He actually played a baseball game two or three days before he was diagnosed and he pitched,” Jordan said. “It was the best he’s ever pitched.”

But within a few days, Jack’s joints were so sore he could barely get out of bed. His mother, Kim, took him to the family doctor. Jordan was home from her first year at college; she was at work when she got the call from her mother.

“I got a call that I needed to go home,” she said. “My little sister [Charlie, then 10] came home from school and I was the only one home so I had to tell her, which was really hard.”

It wouldn’t get any easier. The Sheridans were fortunate to live close to the resources Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, so Jack was able to get the best treatment, but treatment was still a grueling process — one his sisters had no interest in watching.

“I didn’t go to the hospital with him a lot,” Jordan said. “I was more on the phone with my sister, talking to her because she didn’t want to go either. She didn’t want any part of going into the hospital.”

But Jordan felt that she needed to do something more proactive for her brother.

“She wanted to do something, start a charity,” said Kim Sheridan. “Her father and I told her no, not at this time. We all needed to put all our focus on his fight for his life. But Jordan continued to plan and dream of a charity she could start sometime soon.”

So while Jack battled leukemia — he was declared cancer-free in late September of 2017 — Jordan laid the groundwork for what would ultimately become On My Team16.

 

On each other’s team

Jordan describes On My Team16, which she launched in December of 2017,  as “a fantasy league for charity.”

“I wanted to do patients, families, and caregivers… just like we were touched,” Jordan said. “And then our family is huge into sports, so we wanted to tie in that athletic standpoint… so I really liked like the fantasy league for charity idea and getting a lot of athletes involved.”

Jordan said she a lot of connections between athletes and cancer patients.

“Athletes and pediatric cancer patients have a lot in common, just with their mentality and how to have a routine and do the same thing every day, and work at the same thing, and be able to make themselves get out of bed because their joints hurt,” Jordan said. “So I think there’s a lot in common.”

Given that commonality, Jordan said she didn’t think creating On My Team16 was much of a leap. According to its website, the nonprofit aims to “ensure no child feels alone in their fight against cancer. The mission is to provide personal comfort and support to pediatric oncology patients, families and caregivers. Every child will know they are a part of something bigger – part of a team focused on fighting and winning their battle together.” The 16 is the jersey number Jack wore during his baseball career.

“It’s kind of cool to witness, watching a professional baseball player come into a 12-year-old’s room and talk to him and or her and just give them motivation or even play video games with them,” Jordan said. “It’s kind of cool to see that everyone’s real and we all have these things that we like to do no matter who we are.”

The main component of OMT16 is to connect pediatric cancer patients with professional athletes—Jordan played softball, and now that Jack is cancer-free, he’s back on the baseball diamond, as well. Individual or corporate donors can either make single donations or start their own campaigns, but they also have the option to connect them to certain athletes — the nonprofit Is currently working with Washington Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin, a Cicero-North Syracuse graduate, among others. Previous partners include Alex Tuch, Paschal Chukwu, Tyler Cavanaugh, Anthony Angello and several Fayetteville-Manlius girls’ teams.

Donors choose the amount they want to give per stat — say, per strikeout or per goal. At the end of the season, OMT16’s team will tally the results and divide it between pediatric hospitals in Phoenix, Buffalo, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, as we as the local Ronald McDonald House.

“I really want to spread our wings a little bit, and get into different hospitals, but also continue to grow here because this is where Jack got treated,” Jordan said. “This is the doctors and the nurses that took care of him, and all these other kids.”

 

Making the climb

While donors support the mission, they can’t support it entirely. Last year OMT16 launched The Climb, which requires participants to either run or walk each floor of the State Tower Building — a total of 338 stairs. Each participant climbs for a kid with cancer, and on each floor is a kid who has survived the disease, a child fighting cancer or a family member representing a lost fighter. If you’d like to sign up, visit onmyteam16.com or see the sidebar.

Jordan said The Climb isn’t as hard as some people might fear.

“People sign to climb the 20 flights of stairs in the State Tower Building, and it’s 338 steps, and people really are like, ‘I can’t do that. I can’t do that,” she said. “It’s just like a 5K or a road race.”

Jordan said the event, which has become OMT16’s biggest fundraiser, is an “empowering and inspiring event.” She wants the entire community to come out to participate on Nov. 23 to support kids fighting pediatric cancer.

“You’ll be hugged and want to keep coming back, and that’s what we want,” she said. “We want the kids to be able to see that. The whole Syracuse community is following them.”

Jordan said it’s an amazing event to witness. She recalled the inaugural event last year when a wheelchair-bound leukemia patient named Bryce waited with the Onondaga Community College baseball team on the 17th floor to cheer on runners.

“Towards the end of it, he asked the baseball players to help him stand up out of his wheelchair and walk up the last three flights,” Jordan said, “And his mom said, ’He hasn’t gotten out of his wheelchair in so long. That is so hard to do.’  And then his OCC baseball team was like on the sides of him helping him up, and it was really cool.”

 

Comforting the afflicted

Once that money is raised, where does it go?

As Jordan said, the goal of OMT16 is to help the families, the patients and the caregivers — there are other organizations out there working on research.

“It’s not that I don’t want to [put the money] into research,” Jordan said. “It’s that I want to do the things that we needed help with when we were going through it.”

Since its inception, OMT16 has donated more than $100,000 to kids and families. Jordan said they’re having to do less outreach as more families come to them for help.

“We try and do the comfort items,” she said, “gas gift cards and food gift cards and things like that. People like people don’t really think about, and insurance won’t be like, ‘Oh, here’s $50 for gas.’”

There are a few different programs that OMT16:

Socks4Pops: Buy a pair of OMT16 socks, give a pair of fuzzy, comfy socks to a pediatric oncology patient (or, if you’re an athlete, you wear your socks while competing). You will also have the chance to personalize a card to go with the socks to the patient.

Project CARE (Cancer Aid for Resiliency and Empowerment) is designed to help members of my community who are affected by cancer by giving them care packages made with love. This program was created by Ellie Sommers in memory of her father, Tom Sommers, who passed away on May 12, 2015, a mere nine months after his initial diagnosis of Pancreatic cancer. Care packages include items such as snacks, healthy beverages, inspirational signs, journals, and prayer books, trinkets, small games, books, movies, gift cards to local restaurants, and more.

Celebration dinners for children who win their battles against cancer. OMT16 provides gift cards to families to celebrate the victory.

Sporting events: provide tickets to sporting events to children and their families.

In other words, On My Team16 Is determined to help families facing the same path they did.

“My mom said it the other day, she didn’t realize how many questions other people have, and how nice it is to be there if they have question,” Jordan said. “You still think about it to this day you’re like, ‘Oh, my God. Like that could have went way worse.’ And it didn’t. And we’re lucky. So take that positive spin, and give it to someone else who needs it.”

 

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