Having recently spent more time in a hospital than he ever imagined he would, Jake was inspired to enlist an old buddy to bring the joy of sports to pediatric patients.

By Maressa Brown
November 18, 2019
Jake and Nathan
Credit: Courtesy of Kerri Herman

When a Chicago mom named Kerri Herman battled breast cancer earlier this year, she says her 16-year-old son Jake wouldn't leave her side. "Cancer has been a common thread in our lives because I had cancer 15 years ago and am lucky to be here," she says. "Luckily, my breast cancer was caught early, and I only needed a double mastectomy. I had complications after surgery and that made recovery longer."

She says that her son, who was a sophomore in high school at the time, showed remarkable maturity and support. "He decided to bring humor and fun to the situation," Kerri shares. "It made a world of difference and the time passed quickly."

It's that maturity and sense of humor that has fueled Jake's campaign, Pass It Forward, which will bring fantasy football to kids at Lurie Children's Hospital. On November 24, at at Lurie’s Family Life Center, he and his friend, a fifth grader named Nathan Polonsky, as well as former Chicago Bears player and Super Bowl champ Mickey Pruitt will teach pediatric patients to compete with each other with daily fantasy football. Following the initial event, they plan to replicate the event for other fantasy sports. Pass It Forward is also a mission to raise money for the Family Life Center, which provides a variety of activities, work spaces, and rest areas for inpatients and their families.

Jake was inspired to start the program after not only standing by his mom while she battled breast cancer, but being admitted himself three times since March 2018. The teen has fought periorbital cellulitis, an infection of the eyelid or the skin around your eyes, with one of the visits lasting five days. "My time inside hospitals has shown me that the best way to make a patient happy is to engage them in an activity that will make them forget about their health for a few minutes," he shared on his fundraising page. "I was determined to come up with something fun for the kids at Lurie Children’s Hospital."

As Jake began brainstorming ways to support the hospital, he knew he needed to enlist Nathan. The two have been friends ever since Jake was in sixth grade and Nathan was in preschool, and the two were paired up in a school buddy program. "We bonded as we had shared interests," Jake explains. "I went home that day and told my mom that I could see a lot of my younger self in Nathan. Since that time, our friendship has grown."

Nathan's mom Mandee Polonsky, says her son has always looked up to Jake. "Nathan absolutely loves football, so getting to do something good that involves fantasy football and Jake was a no-brainer," she notes. "We feel lucky to have their family in our life."

Through Pass It Forward, Jake and Nathan aim to make a charitable impact and set an example for others who wish to do the same. "Anyone can give back to the community like this, as long as they have the passion for it," Jake says. "I want kids to see service learning as a part of their life and enjoy doing it."

Last week, Jake went to his former school, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, to talk to the kids about his program and how they might be able to create one of their own. "The students made cards for these patients," he shares. "I hope to inspire more people to find a gap, follow their passion, and put smiles on people’s faces."