ABINGTON, Pa. — The national College Sports Communicators organization awarded Greg Pellegrino, the sports information director at Penn State Abington, its annual Bob Kenworthy Community Service Award for civic involvement, community service and accomplishments both within and outside the profession.
Pellegrino was hailed for his work as the co-founder of the BennettStrong Foundation, which supports the families of medically complex patients in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). He and his wife, Mary, were inspired by the experiences of their 10-year-old son, Bennett, at CHOP.
“Greg’s work with the BennettStrong Foundation highlights his tremendous commitment to help families and their children who are struggling with devastating diagnoses. We are so lucky to have Greg as a part of our team, and he is so deserving of this award,” Foley said.
Pellegrino was honored and shocked when he learned that he was the recipient of the Kenworthy award.
“It’s an awesome feeling to be recognized by your peers in the profession for something that is near and dear to your heart," he said. "The work my wife and I do with BennettStrong and being able to help families with their N/IICU (newborn/infant intensive care unit) journey is very heartwarming.”
Bennett was born 25 weeks into Mary’s pregnancy and spent the first eight months of his life at CHOP, enduring multiple surgeries. His diagnoses include cerebral palsy, cortical visual impairment, hepatoblastoma and periventricular leukomalacia. When he was 3, he developed a rare form of liver cancer.
It was after the cancer battle that Greg and Mary founded BennettStrong. The heart of their outreach is providing journals to NICU families so they can keep notes on their child’s treatment and process their experiences. The families also receive cloth hearts.
“Mary did a lot of journaling in the NICU for her mental health and to keep track of the journey," Pellegrino said. "We still have Bennett’s journal. We would also each wear a heart on our clothing so Bennett would get to recognize our scent, so we started donating cloth hearts to the NICU. Studies show that these two activities help with parent bonding and mental health in a really traumatic setting.”
The nonprofit purchases fabric, and local church groups and a senior center make the hearts. During the pandemic, the Pellegrinos partnered with two other organizations to purchase protective face masks for health care workers.
The BennettStrong Foundation hosts an annual gala to raise funds to purchase journals and fabric for the hearts. The 2022 event was the starting point for the creation of a parent space within CHOP’s NICU unit. This year’s gala is set for Feb. 23 in Warrington, Bucks County, with a roaring ’20s theme, and members of the campus Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) are helping out.
Despite the challenges his son faces, Pellegrino described him as upbeat.
“Bennett’s a happy guy and loves going to school, musicd and swimming. He also loves watching the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Disney movies,” he said.
Pellegrino has spent two decades in college athletic communications, with stops at Skidmore College, the Northeast 10 Conference and Holy Family University before arriving at Abington in 2022.
“Abington is like a close-knit family," he said. "Our student athletes are all about making their teams better on and off the field and helping the community through initiatives with SAAC. I’m fortunate to work with a great group of student-athletes and athletics staff."
Foley, the athletics director at Abington, said Pellegrino’s skills have elevated the campus’s athletics programs.
“His expertise has expanded our outreach to highlight the accomplishments of our Penn State Abington coaches and student athletes through website and technology upgrades, social media improvements and changes to our game day management and delivery,” she said.
Pellegrino said the role has evolved in the last 20 years.
“The growth of technology and social media has really impacted the sports information director’s role. We stream the games, and we have multi-cameras and live stats,” said Pellegrino, who serves as the president of the Eastern Athletic Communications Association.
After decades in college athletics and another decade as a dad, Pellegrino offers student athletes and families whose children are facing health issues similar advice.
“Take one day at a time, and don’t look too far into the future. Live in the now, and enjoy what’s going on,” he said.
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 25 majors, accelerated master's degrees, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.