Children's | Community | Featured

While the East Carolina University (ECU) baseball team is rounding into form as postseason play nears, they’re also taking time out to make a special difference in their community.

After a visit to ECU Health Medical Center last November, as part of a career shadowing opportunity, senior first baseman Carter Cunningham felt compelled to do something to help patients and families.

“I’d been praying for ways to give back to the community,” Cunningham said. “As we’re doing a tour of the entire campus, we walked into the [Maynard] Children’s Hospital and it was like God had smacked me in the face. It was like, this is what I have to do. I didn’t know what it would look like yet, though.”

He said that week, he went back to the team and asked for a small donation from everyone to spread some holiday cheer to patients and families at the children’s hospital. The response was more than he expected.

ECU baseball players Carter Cunningham and Parker Byrd visit with a pediatric patient at Maynard Children's Hospital.
ECU baseball players Carter Cunningham and Parker Byrd visit with a pediatric patient at Maynard Children's Hospital.

“We got about $500 and we were able to drop off some presents to the children’s hospital right before break,” he said. “It was awesome. We had about 20 players come in and we hung out in the playroom and had a great time.”

Tara Tadlock, a child life specialist at Maynard Children’s Hospital, said patients and families would subsequently talk about the visit for the next month. The same held true for Cunningham and his teammates, who also went on talking about how special the visit felt.

He said over the Christmas break he took more time to think about what he could do to make an impact for patients and families like those he’d met a few weeks before. Then the idea to start a foundation, Homers That Help, came to him.

It started with a call for donations on social media, one sponsor for each of ECU’s 33 home baseball games in 2024. The sponsor makes an up-front donation to the fund and an additional donation for each home run hit during the game. While he expected to need some time and make some calls to fill every game, the fund was complete after about 15 hours.

“The community here, I can’t describe it,” Cunningham said. “I get goosebumps talking about it because they’re so generous and so supportive, not only of ECU athletics, but the whole community. It was a testament to all the people that are here and I’m thankful and blessed to have an opportunity to be here.”

Because of the outpouring of support, Cunningham opened a “Fund B” for those who were not able to directly sponsor a game but still wanted make a donation. Cunningham is making donations himself as well, contributing $25 to the fund for each of his own home runs. With nine home runs, Cunningham is tied for the team lead and backing up his own efforts.

Along with the funds, which Cunningham and Tadlock recently started to distribute to patients and families, Cunningham and his teammates are continuing to make bi-weekly visits to the Maynard Children’s Hospital. He said taking a step back to give time to others is important to him.

“As a Division I athlete, you get so caught up in the games and practices, the wins, the losses, but every other Monday it’s just eye-opening,” he said. “I’ll never forget one patient, the day before we went to play Campbell, he said, ‘Have fun at your game tomorrow.’ It was so refreshing and offered great perspective. It’s way bigger than baseball. These visits are the best part of my week every time I visit.”

Tadlock said the program has been a great benefit for everyone involved and she’s looking forward to its continued success.

ECU baseball players Joey Berini, Jake Hunter and Nathan Chrismon play with a pediatric patient at the Maynard Children's Hospital playground.
ECU baseball players Joey Berini, Jake Hunter and Nathan Chrismon meet a pediatric patient at the Maynard Children's Hospital playground.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time with scheduling our visitors and working in Child Life and these visits are a bright spot of our month, too. It’s great to see the patients and families so excited, seeing the guys so excited and knowing that they’re making a difference for our patients is huge,” Tadlock said. “Some of the kids that are here are going through really hard stuff and finding out hard news. If they’re able to leave that behind for a few minutes and hang out with the ECU baseball team, it’s really important to try to create those special moments. All we want to do in Child Life is provide some normal experiences for the children. Working with this team has been amazing.”

Though this is Cunningham’s last year at ECU, he said the plan is for Homers That Help to carry on. He’s looking to younger members of the team to pick up the torch and build upon the positive momentum the foundation has today.


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