Skip to content

Nonprofit Platform Brings Cheer, Hope To Chronically Ill Children

The inspiration to do good can come from anywhere — even chance encounters between strangers at a hospital. That’s the story behind Pediatric Pep Talk, an app-based nonprofit platform that partners with children’s hospitals to connect chronically ill patients and their families with athletes nationwide.

The platform’s goal is to let patients “join a team no matter where they find themselves,” according to a blog on The Awesome Foundation website. The blog was written by Maxim Manyak, a former men’s lacrosse player at the University of Notre Dame and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Pep Talk.

Manyak, a California native, got the idea for the nonprofit in 2020 when he and other Notre Dame student-athletes visited Beacon Children’s Hospital in South Bend, IN. In an interview with “Inside INdiana Business,” Manyak said it was during that visit that Manyak met 10-year-old Ian McMillen of Granger, IN. At the time, Ian was battling leukemia, but as of late 2022, he was cancer-free.

Photo Courtesy

After meeting Ian, Manyak decided to do something that would make it easier for chronically ill kids to meet with athletes who could serve as a source of inspiration in their recoveries.

The result was Pediatric Pep Talk, which allows young patients to join a team and receive encouraging video messages from athletes.

“Ian is the inspiration behind Pediatric Pep Talk,” Manyak told “Notre Dame News.” “Initially, we had made plans to go to the zoo, for him to come to my practices, cheer us on at our games — and more importantly, I promised him a whole new team to stand by his side when he needed it most.”

Those plans were put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept Ian confined to his room, Notre Dame News reported. The pandemic also meant he could not receive in-person visits from Manyak or others. 

Photo Courtesy Pediatric Pep Talk  

“I had made Ian a promise, and I would move mountains to keep it,” Manyak said. “When we were able to resume practices, my teammates and I sent him a quick video, and he loved it. We made him our teammate.”

When Ian had to undergo a spinal tap and chemotherapy session, his father, Kevin McMillen, contacted Manyak to see if the team could do something to lift Ian’s spirits.

“I put together an encouraging and uplifting video from all 50 guys on my team,” Manyak said. “I added some highlights from our most recent games and threw in some music so that Ian’s new teammates could all be there with him on the morning of his surgery.”

In a CBS Weekend News interview, Kevin McMillan said, “It’s huge. I mean, it’s a family unit coming together … the brotherhood is just a cool thing to see — and they’re college guys!

In an interview published on the Notre Dame IDEA Center site, Manyak said Pediatric Pep Talk’s “mission is to change the lives of children with critical illnesses, their families, and their treatment teams, one smile at a time.”

Photo Courtesy Pediatric Pep Talk  

The Notre Dame IDEA Center provides resources and expertise to help budding entrepreneurs and innovators with idea development, commercialization, business formation, prototyping, and entrepreneurial education. Manyak enlisted the center’s help to get his app up and running and advance its reach to other universities and hospitals nationwide.

According to Notre Dame News, as of November 2022, Pediatric Pep Talk offered monthly video interactions between 800-plus athletes and 16 patients at Beacon Children’s Hospital. An expansion beyond South Bend was also underway.

Video Courtesy Notre Dame News 

Among the other universities expected to join are the University of Arkansas, Western Kentucky University, Northwestern University, and Indiana University. Three new hospitals had also shown interest. In the meantime, Manyak has put his focus on building out infrastructure and getting the platform ready for expansion.

“We want to ensure we have a simple, easy, and scalable platform whose expansion would only be limited by internet connectivity,” Manyak told Notre Dame News. “We don’t want to expand too much before we are ready.”

Share on Social

Back To Top