Non-profit benefiting kids with serious illnesses celebrates 10 years at Gillette

FOXBORO, Mass. — Wildly popular musical duo ‘The Chainsmokers’ closed out an inspirational gala at Gillette Stadium Thursday, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of a non-profit that connects kids with serious illnesses to college sports teams.

Team IMPACT, co-founded by Dan Kraft and college friend Jay Calnan, has matched 3,000 kids with 750 colleges and universities in 49 states. Each kid is drafted to a team and has a signing day, becoming teammates and friends with the athletes. The children attend games and events with their team, share high fives and laughs, when their illnesses might otherwise have prevented them from taking part in sports.

Asked how the non-profit ranks among the many charitable organizations the Kraft family is involved with, Dan Kraft said, “I’ll give you a Belichick answer. I don’t rank them, but this one is right up at the top of the list.”

Among the lifelong friendships the organization has created is that of Vince Skelton and Luke Somers. Skelton, who was born with cerebral palsy, was drafted and signed with Endicott College’s football team in 2014, developing an unbreakable bond with one of the players, Somers.

“He’s basically my older brother,” Skelton said. “I can talk to him about anything, and he’s always there for me.”

Skelton, who is now 23 years old, was a junior in high school when he signed with the team and instantly connected with Somers.

“I was going to go be a teacher and figured I should be a part of a program like this when I was a captain at Endicott. And little did I know how it would impact me,” Somers said. “Vince and I are best friends. We hang out all the time.”

Over nearly eight years, the pair have attended sporting events together, bonded with their families, gone skiing and hiked Mt. Washington.

“When Vince was born, he wasn’t supposed to be able to walk or talk,” Skelton’s father, Bill, said. “And now he’s climbing Mt. Washington, has a master’s degree. And Team IMPACT, for lack of a better word, made an amazing impact on his life for the friendships, the people, the self-confidence – just the complete package.”

“It gave him a sense of belonging in a world that he didn’t have access to as a person with [cerebral palsy],” Vince’s mother, Janice Skelton, added, emotional as she reflected on her son’s friendship. “Remarkable young man Luke is. And what he has done for our family we will never be able to express.”