Five University of Richmond students founded a nonprofit organization last summer that has partnered with World Pediatric Project to give families receiving medical care in Richmond a chance to attend campus sporting events.

Jimmy Maiarana is currently spending his junior year abroad at the University of Oxford, but before he left in the fall, he laid out plans to start a nonprofit called Chance to Play with four of his best friends.

In an email to The Collegian, Maiarana said that Chance to Play's mission statement emphasizes sports' ability to release people from everyday challenges, and that the group strives to "assist individuals whose family lives have been affected by a medical issue by sponsoring participation in athletic camps, competitions and events."

The founders of the organization hope to sponsor children nationwide to attend summer sports camps. They have worked to allot tickets to Richmond athletic events for the families that World Pediatric Project is helping in Richmond, said junior Alyson McGonigle, a co-founder of Chance to Play.

"World Pediatric Project is an international nonprofit organization and our mission is to heal critically ill children in developing countries in Central America and the eastern Caribbean," said Jamie Cooney, a 2009 Richmond graduate and the director of volunteers at World Pediatric Project.

One of Cooney's roles at WPP is to "make sure the practical, social and emotional needs of our families are met while they're here in Richmond," she said. Chance to Play has presented a great way for patients and their families to spend time doing something other than going to doctors' appointments, she said.

McGonigle is a member of the Richmond cross country and track and field teams. She said her participation in sports had always afforded her opportunities she might not have otherwise had, and that she hoped to give other children those opportunities as well.

"We thought people with medical issues, or who had family members with medical issues, would be able to benefit the most from some sort of safe haven from reality," she said. "And since sports have always been that for me, I thought [Chance to Play] was a really good idea."

Maiarana is one of the managers of the men's basketball team and was asked to join the team on a two-week tour of Italy and Switzerland last summer, he said.

"At that point, I realized that I had to start helping others because of the opportunities that so many people had given me," he said. "It was time to get off the sidelines and do something productive."

Maiarana's passions for medicine, basketball and helping others led him to the idea for Chance to Play, he said. That passion is what has kept the organization going while Maiarana has been abroad, said Lindsay Hudson, junior and co-founder. Hudson said Maiarana was the heart of the organization, but that knowing he had asked each of the founders to join him for specific reasons made it even more special.

The other two members of the organization are junior Meredith Hawkins and sophomore Mike DeChello, who is also a manager for the men's basketball team.

So far, Chance to Play has organized tickets to Richmond football and basketball games for 10 families, and either McGonigle or DeChello has joined them at the events, Maiarana said.

For WPP's patients, a live sporting event is something they have never come close to being a part of, Cooney said.

"I think it's a great glimpse into our lives," Cooney said of the sporting events, "and of what we value, what we enjoy - some of our hobbies and interests. I think it's nice for our families to experience that cultural side, because a lot of them love soccer, but they've never seen basketball or American football."

WPP's patients are aged from a few weeks to 21 years old, and they come to Richmond with only one guardian, Cooney said. Their time in Richmond typically lasts six to eight weeks, and depending on each case, patients would be able to attend a sporting event toward the end of their time here, she said.

Going to sporting events is an opportunity WPP would love to offer its patients, but would require a lot more work on its part if Chance to Play were not in place, Cooney said.

Since the members of Chance to Play "already have the system established, and they already have the relationships at U of R," Cooney said, "they're able to make this available to our families, which is incredible because so much of the time our families spend here is focused on medical care."

Cooney and Maiarana both said their respective organizations have and would continue to benefit each other.

Chance to Play is competing in Richmond's annual Business Pitch Competition in April and would love to receive positive feedback, Maiarana said.

Chance to Play has a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chance-to-Play/377585368993289?fref=ts) and a website (http://www.chancetoplay.org/) that features patients' stories and more information about its members.

Contact staff writer Maggie Burch at maggie.burch@richmond.edu