Designed to highlight inspirational stories, HOPE (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) Week was a resounding success in its first season, even earning the praise of President Barack Obama when the Yankees visited the White House earlier this year.
"HOPE Week was such an important week for our entire team during our championship run in 2009," manager Joe Girardi said at the time in April. "It's great that the Yankees' organization will once again allow us to reach out and reward five more inspiring stories during the 2010 season. It should be another special week."
HOPE Week kicked off on Monday August 16th and ran through Friday August 20th during the team's homestand against the Tigers and Mariners. Throughout the week, all 25 Yankees' players, Girardi and his coaching staff, participated in reaching out to an individual, a family or an organization worthy of recognition.
In 1996, Joe Featherston, then a physical education teacher at Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, was asked to prepare a group of Special Olympians for a track meet at St. John's University. He gladly accepted and used the opportunity to involve students from his high school to assist with the once-a-week coaching sessions.
His work with the Olympians made him realize that children with disabilities, along with their families, could derive great benefits from having a regular physical and social outlet to take part in. He reached out to now-retired Father James Dunne of St. Camillus-St. Virgilius Parish (SCSVP) in Rockaway Park to see if there were parishioners who wanted to become involved in a weekly gathering for children with disabilities. That fall, the group held its first meeting with eight athletes and six volunteers, and Rockaway Special Athletes was born.
Last October the SCSVP gym was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully nearby St. Rose of Lima School generously offered their space to the group until SCSVP can rebuild.
Coping with a hospital stay of any length can be a scary proposition. Autumn Blinn, a 10-year-old from Rome, New York, realized this from spending time with her grandfather, John Santiago, who undergoes kidney dialysis three times a week at their local hospital, Faxton St. Lukes in Utica.
Last year, when Autumn's grandmother, Shari, taught her to sew, they decided to make a pillow for their first project. When her grandfather saw it, he asked if she could make him a pillow on which to rest his arm during dialysis. After John, a Bronx native, proudly showed off his pillow to other patients, Autumn realized that other dialysis patients could be uplifted by the gift of a pillow.
Without prompting, she dove into making Pillows of Love for as many people as possible. Over the last year, she has made approximately 175 pillows for sick children and adults.
Dating back to his days growing up in the Dominican Republic, Pedro Rosario has always taken care of animals. It was only natural that his love of animals extended into his professional life, and in 1996, he began a career at New York City Animal Care and Control, rising through the ranks during the course of 16 successful years.
While his work was always intensely rewarding, it was too often filled with heartbreak. New Yorkers brought in a never-ending stream of cats and dogs, but there were never enough adoptive homes to keep up with supply. The time came in 2012 when Rosario thought he could do more good on his own, and he created the not-for-profit New Beginning Animal Rescue (NBAR) in an industrial part of the Castle Hill section of the East Bronx.
Rosario operates NBAR on a shoestring budget, trying to care for up to 80 dogs and 60 cats at any given time. His organization relies solely on donations and adoption fees, and it is almost impossible to cover all of the group's costs.
For parents and children living in homeless shelters, nothing can be taken for granted. Luxuries are entirely out of reach, and the basics are usually the stuff of dreams. That's where Birthday Wishes comes in. The group was founded in November 2002 by Lisa Vasiloff, Karen Yahara and Carol Zwanger-three friends and colleagues who wanted to help homeless children build self-esteem. Having volunteered in several homeless shelters, the trio realized (as they attended their own children's birthday parties) that the birthdays of children living at shelters often went unnoticed and uncelebrated.
Birthday Wishes believes that every child, regardless of their living situation, should have their birthday recognized and celebrated. The organization has found that something as simple and "normal" as a birthday party has the power to provide validation to these children that they are members of society like any "regular kid." Often, these parties allow the children to feel special and give them a rare moment in the sun.
Ty Smalley was raised in the town of Perkins, just 15 minutes from the campus of Oklahoma State University, in the heart of Payne County. He was smaller than the other children his age and was the subject of unmerciful bullying for years. Deflecting insults, coping with intimidation and suffering violence were part of his daily curriculum. On May 13, 2010, 11-year-old Ty was provoked into a fight at school and suspended. Home early from school and left alone because his parents had to work, he took his own life.
That summer, Ty's story was taken up by local high school students participating in the Oklahoma State University Upward Bound program. Together, they set a goal to end bullying in their respective high schools and began an initiative called "Stand for the Silent."
Flying Manes is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals with physical and emotional disabilities by providing therapeutic horse riding instruction. The program was started by Stefanie Pleschinger (pictured above), who organizes the instruction, along with her husband, Bricklin, who oversees the administration. The riding helps the children build strength physically while increasing their self-esteem as they gain command in riding the horse.
Yankees Mark Teixeira, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Jayson Nix and coach Larry Rothschild surprised a Flying Manes class at the Riverdale Equestrian Center in the Bronx. The Yankees helped students groom the horses and assisted in walking beside the horses during the students' riding lesson.
Known as the "Angel in Queens", Jorge Munoz, 48, emigrated from Colombia in the 1980s with his mother and sister. Identifying with the plight of day laborers in Jackson Heights, Queens, Munoz feeds, out of the kindness of his heart, as many as 140 individuals a night at the Roosevelt Ave. and 74th Street subway stop. Since beginning his work in 2004, he has served over 70,000 meals to New Yorkers who otherwise could not afford to routinely enjoy a hot meal.
Yankees players Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan surprised Munoz in the kitchen of his home and helped him cook the daily meal he prepares for up to 140 people. Later that night, GM Brian Cashman helped him serve the food to the hungry.
Five-year-old Andy Fass is a happy, talkative kid who bravely deals with oculocutaneous albinism, (www.albinism.org). This genetic condition has left him legally blind and without pigment in his skin. On April 25, Andy Pettitte, who was making a start at Trenton, gave little Andy the baseball he was using to warm up. Encouraged by the gesture, little Andy was inspired to sign up for tee-ball and face his fear of sports involving moving objects. Now all he wants to do is play baseball.
After a morning tour of the Yankees clubhouse, and enjoying the afternoon game vs. Cleveland, the Yankees took Andy Fass and his family to the MLB Fan Cave studio in Manhattan, where he played baseball and other games with Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia and other Yankees players along with other children who have albinism.
Rachel Doyle was a 17-year-old sophomore in high school when she created GlamourGals after the passing of her grandmother in 2000. The organization is comprised of male and female high school and college-age volunteers who give manicures and makeovers to the elderly at senior homes. The group builds meaningful relationships between generations. There are now 1,300 volunteers in more than 62 chapters spanning 13 states.
Nick Swisher, David Robertson along with several other Yankees surprised the GlamourGals at the East Haven Nursing and Senior Rehab Center in the Bronx, mingling with the residents and assisting in the makeovers.
When his daughter Madison was diagnosed at age 5 with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere in varying degrees, Jeff Woytovich searched for a support network. After discovering that there was no organization that focused on children with alopecia, he and his wife, Betsy, created the Children's Alopecia Project to help children with alopecia maintain their confidence and self-esteem heading into their teenage years. There are now 15 "CAP" Kids Support Groups around the country which regularly work with families from 30 states.
Alex Rodriguez, Manager Joe Girardi, along with other Yankees, former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand and bleacher creature "Bald Vinny" Milano, surprised CAP kids with a picnic at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. Events included face- and head-painting, a scavenger hunt, lunch and games.
After nearly dying from a brain aneurysm at age 12 in 1997 and enduring a year-long hospital stay, Daniel Trush [L] began music therapy classes. His transformation as a result of playing music was so profound that his family established Daniel's Music Foundation (DMF), a not-for-profit organization which provides free music instruction to individuals with disabilities in the five boroughs of New York City.
The Yankees teamed up with DMF on a special concert at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway. Yankees players Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli and Chris Dickerson were joined by former Yankee and Latin Grammy Award nominee Bernie Williams, Latin pop star Romeo Santos, as well as a plethora of Broadway stars who contributed their talents to an unforgettable performance.
During the tragic day of September 11, 2001, thousands of children lost their parents and thousands of parents lost their children. In the 10 years since that dark day, the voids created from the losses continue to be immeasurable. Tuesday's Children was founded in the year following the terrorist attacks to promote healing and recovery. The organization established a unique mentoring program that has helped to heal still-open wounds.
Tuesday's events saw Yankees players Mariano Rivera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Luis Ayala, Cory Wade and Steve Garrison, along with former Yankees Manager Joe Torre, surprise Tuesday's Children at the Beekman Beach Club at the South Street Seaport for lunch, games, and a ride on the Delta Baseball Water Taxi. The boat ride took mentors and mentees past the Statue of Liberty and on to Yankee Stadium, where they were honored by the Yankees as special guests during the game that evening.
For 15 child refugees who endured the devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, it was the loving arms of Ss. Joachim and Anne's School in Queens Village, N.Y., that took them in. The children, now aged 7 to 13, arrived in New York with nothing, having lost loved ones and been witness to unspeakable horrors. All have taken to their new home and cherish their opportunity at an education.
Wednesday's festivities saw the Yankees host the young Haitian refugees for a day game at Yankee Stadium, after which players CC Sabathia, Jorge Posada and Freddy Garcia, along with coaches Mike Harkey and Tony Pena, joined the children on a Gray Line New York double-decker bus tour of Manhattan. Stops included the Empire State Building, where the children participated in a ceremonial lighting of the building followed by a visit to the observation deck. The trip continued to Times Square, where Derek Jeter surprised everyone by delivering pizzas. The final stop of the day was at St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Archbishop Timothy Dolan gave a tour of the building and hosted the children for dessert in his private residence.
Megan Ajello, 17, is her neighborhood's fiercest community activist, fighting for handicapped-accessibility for her local playground and holding an annual charity lemonade stand in front of her home in Staten Island. Her biggest battle, however, is against cerebral palsy and scoliosis, which have necessitated six major surgeries, including a spinal fusion.
On Thursday, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman as well as Robinson Cano, David Robertson, A.J. Burnett, Andruw Jones, Eduardo Nunez and Boone Logan joined coaches Mick Kelleher, Rob Thomson and Charlie Wonsowicz at Megan's charity lemonade stand. The team helped Megan raise money throughout the day. Food was available for all and music filled the street as a dunk tank was brought in for neighbors to dunk Yankees players for charity. Together, Megan and the Yankees raised over $12,000 for the Special Olympics.
John Lahutsky [C], 21,and Andrei Sullivan [L], 19, were Russian orphans who became best friends as little boys in their Moscow orphanage. Considered "incurables" due to their cerebral palsy, they were offered no education or physical therapy and kept indoors for years at a time. They were adopted by American families at ages 5 and 9, respectively, and reunited after 14 years during HOPE Week 2011. John recently wrote a book, The Boy from Baby House 10, which details his suffering in the Russian orphanage system.
Friday's events saw the surprise reunion of John and Andrei, who had not seen each other since 1997, when they were inseparable best friends in an abusive Russian orphanage. They were brought together while visiting the TODAY show at NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center. The pair was given royal treatment on a carriage ride with Yankees manager Joe Girardi to the Central Park Zoo, where they met up with Yankees players Mark Teixeira and Brett Gardner, and Yankees coaches Kevin Long and Larry Rothschild for a tour and outdoor lunch on the grounds.
Jorge is a 13-year-old quadruple amputee originally born in Panama. As an infant, he lost his hands and feet as a result of an infection. Since Jorge was 3, John and Faye Dyksen of North Haledon, N.J., have served as his foster parents, taking him into their home for three-quarters of the year through a program called Healing the Children - New Jersey. In the U.S., Jorge receives the medical treatment he needs, including prosthetics and the fittings and maintenance required of them.
On HOPE Week Monday, Mariano Rivera, Nick Swisher and four other Yankees surprised Jorge with a backyard pool party with his family and friends.
Blind since birth, Jane Lang made the decision a decade ago to expand her life by learning how to make the two-hour, two-train trek to Yankee Stadium with just her canine companion, Clipper. Now in her 60s, she has made more than 250 trips to Yankee Stadium on her own, serving as an inspiration to anyone feeling bound by circumstance.
On HOPE Week Tuesday, Manager Joe Girardi, players Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin and David Robertson and former Yankee Tino Martinez surprised Jane at her Morris Plains, N.J., home and joined her on her trek to the Stadium.
Mohamed is an 18-year-old Sierra Leone native, civil war survivor and recent high school graduate. At age 9, he became the "man of the house," foraging to prevent his family's starvation in Sierra Leone. Since immigrating to an impoverished section of the Bronx several years ago, he has maintained his status as breadwinner for his family in West Africa. All through high school, he worked weekends and summers, enduring a five-hour round-trip commute via public transportation to work as a golf caddie in Alpine, N.J., sending his earnings home to Sierra Leone.
On HOPE Week Wednesday, Mohamed was given the New York City tour of a lifetime. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and pitcher CC Sabathia took Mohamed, who is an aspiring international business student, on a surprise tour of the New York Stock Exchange as the market rang its opening bell. The Yankees then escorted Mohamed to City Hall, where he was joined by Derek Jeter, Marcus Thames and Curtis Granderson in meeting Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Following their trip to City Hall, the Yankees and Mohamed visited the United Nations, where His Excellency Mr. Shekou M. Touray, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, spoke with Mohamed and the Yankees in a private meeting and accompanied the group on a tour of the General Assembly Hall.
The "Beautiful People" organization of Warwick, N.Y., provides adaptive sports for special-needs children in Orange County. What makes this group's story so unique is that its founder, Peter Ladka, began the program despite not having any special-needs children of his own.
On HOPE Week Thursday, Yankees players and coaches were paired with special-needs children from the Beautiful People organization in a baseball game on the field at Yankee Stadium following the club's day game against Detroit. The Yankees, the children and their families enjoyed an on-field barbecue catered by Hard Rock Cafe as Yankee Stadium's famous "Bleacher Creature" fans stayed to cheer on the Beautiful People players.
The Arias sisters, Johanna (20) and Melida (18), have overcome hardships and homelessness and made their lives better through education and hard work. Two years ago, with their family struggling, Johanna chose to pass up college at Syracuse University in order to work so she could provide for her sister and mother. This fall, Melida begins her freshman year at Baruch College in Manhattan and hopes to become the first member of her family to graduate college.
On HOPE Week Friday, Yankees players Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Ramiro Pena, Francisco Cervelli and David Robertson surprised Melida at her job at Wendy's in the Bronx. The players then took Melida and her sister, Johanna, on a surprise shopping spree at DKNY in Manhattan to outfit Melida for her freshman year of college and Johanna for future professional opportunities. At Yankee Stadium that evening, the young women were surprised with paid internships - a medical internship for Johanna at Lincoln Hospital and a 2011 internship with the Yankees for Melida so she can gain professional experience while she pursues her studies.
2009's HOPE Week introduced fans to community heroes Marco and Jen Chiappetta and their Patchwork of Young Leaders Society, as Yankees players and Joe Girardi joined them in their home and took part in their mentoring program. The Yankees also encountered Tom Ellenson, as well as Ranjit Seal and Melvin Williams, who have each overcome disabilities and serve as inspirational members of society. In addition, the organization held an anniversary celebration for ALS-stricken George Murray, his wife Kim and their four-year-old son Trason, along with their family and friends at Yankee Stadium with Yankees players. The club also hosted an overnight carnival for Camp Sundown participants, who suffer from a rare genetic disorder which does not allow them exposure to UV light.