We all desire to give. For if not, what is life?
Love, share, care. It’s simply an idea born in the heart to find a way to help those who cannot help themselves, or at least, those who may need a guiding hand.
When we are driven to give, we live. And that life force is a story we all should share to inspire others to dig a little deeper, to care a little more, to create the story that in the end, benefits all of humanity.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is Storytelling for Nonprofits.
Storytelling for Nonprofits: The Flip
“God gave me a stage, a guitar and a song.” – Singer/songwriter, Ed Sheeran
It’s those gifts bestowed by our creator that make us special. For Sean Burns, God gave him a glove, a ball and an idea – one he is using to inspire and pave the way for others to learn to be better. It’s not easy. Despite significant physical challenges, since birth Sean has not had full use of most of the right side of his body – he is driven to be the best he can be and his best is being recognized especially by a non-profit organization called, Team Up for 1 (http://teamupfor1.org/).
Team Up for 1 connects children with challenges to the experience of team sports. Once the organization identifies a child and their favorite sport, they connect them with a team in their area that would be a good match. For Sean, it was obvious it would be baseball and the organization’s Board Chairman Charlie Levine had just the team to welcome Sean in and share in the experience.
“Mr. Charlie called my dad and said there’s a spot open with the Frederick Keys,” says Sean. “I was so excited about it. I actually got to go there twice.” Team up for 1 helped Sean to gain the honor of throwing out the first pitch for the Baltimore Orioles Single-A affiliate, working out with the players and being adopted as part of the team. Everybody on the Keys was impressed to see what Sean refers to as, The Flip. It was as exciting for the players as it was for Sean, (http://bit.ly/2wK4yDL).
“During the warm-ups Sean showed how he played baseball,” says Marty. “I did it for the manager,” says Sean. “He spent about 15 minutes with us to understand how I did what I did, it was really cool. He was stunned with how much I knew about baseball and what I could do with the baseball once I had it in my hands.”
“A lot of the players stopped to watch what was going on,” says Marty. “One of them came up to Sean right before the game, introduced himself and told him how impressed he was with him.”
Baltimore Orioles utility infielder Ryan Flaherty happened to be with the Frederick Keys on a rehab assignment. He also noticed Sean and ended up giving him a special gift. “We weren’t aware Ryan was there,” says Marty. “But after batting practice he came up to Sean, told him he liked what he saw and gave him one of his bats.”
For Team up for 1, it’s just another huge success story – in this case helping someone like Sean to live out his dream on a field of dreams – and Charlie Levine says it’s all about making something special happen. “Making a difference in everybody’s lives is important to me. But kids hold a special place in my heart. So, watching these kids shine, watching them smile. Some of these kids in our program are being mainstreamed for the first time in their lives and watching their experiences is really neat, really special and I’m glad we can do this for everybody.”
For Sean, his time with the Frederick Keys minor league team was an exciting moment for a young man who has fought long and hard to be where he is in life.
Sean’s place in this world began as it does for all of us, in utero, being shaped and formed in the womb of our mother. But for Sean this place of miraculous development came with a hitch. A blood clot formed in his mothers’ placenta in the umbilical cord, affecting oxygen levels and creating a challenge for Sean from birth – severely compromising the use of the right side of his body.
A number of surgeries through the years to straighten his right arm and leg and literally thousands of hours of physical and occupational therapy, helped turn things around for Sean. He’s now an 18-year-old senior at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore, functioning quite well because he has endured and persevered with an indomitable spirit. “He’s amazing,” says Sean’s father Marty. “Growing up he would not consider himself different from most, and if he wants to do something he will figure out a way to do it. In terms of sports, he likes to play all sports. School work doesn’t come easy to him, but he works hard. He has to work two-to-three times as hard as other kids to achieve success, but he does the work.”
Sean echoes his own father’s sentiments when it comes to his school work, especially because it’s appropriately emphasized by his mother. “My mom is on my butt 24/7 to get my school work done,” laughs Sean. “And the head coach for Mt. St. Joe is a math teacher. His philosophy is school work first. Get the school work done before practice, or being able to play.”
And play he does. Sean has used sports to fuel his inspiration for life and to prove to others he can compete with the best. He has played regular, competitive baseball since he was 5-years-old, starting out in t-ball with the Sykesville Rec League. But with the right side of his body compromised and the desire to prove he could be the best he could be on the field, Sean had to teach himself a trick.
Marty Burns describes it this way: “When he originally started playing, Sean would catch the ball then tuck the glove under his armpit, then take the ball out and throw it, just like the All-Star major league pitcher, Jim Abbott. Since his right side is mostly paralyzed it worked, but it would take him a long time to complete the process. He wanted to develop a quicker way to get the ball out.”
Like Sean has done for most of his life, he found a way. “I actually taught myself a trick,” says Sean. “One cold winter I started doing a flip of my glove in the basement, breaking some tiles in the ceiling while I practiced.” But more and more practice led Sean to perfect his move, the same one he put on display for the Frederick Keys players, appropriately titled, The Flip. (http://bit.ly/2xBvk0t)
The Flip has captured attention and presented Sean with the opportunity to coach other kids who are in wheelchairs, or have some type of physical or mental impairment.
Just like Team Up for 1, Sean is also giving back, by coaching other kids on his fall baseball team. As an older kid on the team Sean his helping out the younger kids with fundamentals and encouragement. The team is currently 2-0 and Sean’s batting average is .888, he’s 8-for-9 at the plate this season! Sean says he wants to inspire others with a simple focus. “You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it,” says Sean.
“Sean never lets anything get in his way,” says Marty. “If he wants to do it he will figure it out. Flip the glove, shoot baskets (Sean enjoys basketball as well). The hardest part of Sean’s day is what nobody sees. It’s putting on his baseball socks and uniform and putting on his belt and learning to do it with one hand. The sports part is the showcase for his talents and people are amazed. That’s the part that comes easiest to him. But there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that he has to struggle with just to get out on the field.”
Living with any disability or impairment presents challenges for the children and the parents. “When you plan to have kids you don’t expect to have these challenges, so our lives are different then we thought they would be,” says Marty. (Sean’s brother also has Type 1 diabetes, but he too perseveres with an insulin pump and a glucose monitor). But both Marty and his wife Carolyn are inspired by their children and support them at every turn.
“My mom encourages me to do my homework,” says Sean. “But when I was younger she was also the one encouraging me to play baseball and basketball. She is always encouraging me.”
His family’s support and encouragement helps Sean to continue to excel – he participates with everything from baseball to wheelchair basketball with the Bennett Blazers and wheelchair softball as well, making the all-tournament all-star team and even helping the team to win the wheelchair softball nationals.
It’s Sean’s hard work and determination which has also impressed Team Up for 1. “Team up for 1 wants me to be a spokesperson,” says Sean. “They want me to speak at a fundraiser and to be part of the organization.” Sean and his family plan to be front and center at the Team up for 1 Annual Sports Leadership Awards Gala on December 6th, (http://teamupfor1.org/event/2nd-annual-sports-leadership-awards-gala/).
In life it’s all about making a difference. Taking the challenge you face and making the best of it, then using the strategy you develop to encourage others to do the same. Sean is doing just that. Team up for 1 is doing it as well. Together they show us all how one idea can change the world – one child at a time.
“I’ll paint the picture, let me set the scene,
when I have children they will know what it means.
And pass on the things my family’s given to me,
just love and understanding…positivity.
-Ed Sheeran, lyrics from What do I Know
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
To donate or nominate your child to participate with Team Up for 1, please visit:(http://teamupfor1.org/donations/).
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