Currently a baseball player at Charleston Southern University, Chris Singleton was a typical student when tragedy forever changed his life. His mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45 - a minister at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., and speech pathologist and girls track coach at Goose Creek High School - was among the nine parishioners who lost their lives in a premeditated hate crime at the church on June 17, 2015. He helped start his community's healing process by publicly forgiving the accused killer, proclaiming, "Love is always stronger than hate."
In November 2014, Valerie Jensen opened a unique movie theater in Ridgefield, Conn., staffed primarily by individuals with disabilities. The Prospector Theater is more than a movie theater. It's a place where staff members are referred to as "prospects," and are given the training and confidence needed to realize their own potential. In its first eight months, the staff of theater has grown to 90 people, with no signs of slowing down.
In 2014, the students and administration at Southern Boulevard School elementary school in Chatham Township, N.J., embraced the core concepts of HOPE Week and made it their own, adapting the program for their school. Throughout the week of Nov. 17-21, 2014, each grade took on a different community service project with the idea that no one is too young to begin giving back.
In 2009, Debbie House took a passion for helping special needs children and created an outlet for local young girls to shine through the Hunterdon Huskies Contender cheerleading team in High Bridge, N.J. The team consists of a dozen high school-aged girls with various disabilities, including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. The program allows the girls to temporarily escape the challenges of their everyday lives and do something they love, while forming strong friendships through a shared activity.
In 2007, 47-year-old Frank Squeo was diagnosed with Stage III testicular cancer. While receiving treatment, he met many children also battling cancer, and he promised himself that he would do something to help these children someday. With his return to health, the Rockland County, N.Y., resident founded Baking Memories 4 Kids, a non-profit organization that bakes and sells chocolate chip cookies during the holiday season. The proceeds are used to fund all-expenses-paid vacations for the families of children with life-threatening illnesses to Give Kids the World Village - an Orlando, Fla. resort that is designed specifically for children with disabilities and illnesses.
The New York Yankees were proud to kick off HOPE Week on Monday, June 16, by bringing together representatives from all 25 prior HOPE Week days for a reunion at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The gathering celebrated the five-year anniversary of the initiative. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, former Yankees pitchers Mariano Rivera and David Cone, and current Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova attended in support of the honorees.
Career Gear is an organization that helps promote the economic independence of low-income men by providing financial literacy training, professional attire and career development tools. Providing these men with a business suit is just the first step. The supportive environment of Career Gear allows its clients to make the connections and build the confidence to continue down the path of personal development.
With the help of over 80 referral agencies in the New York City area, Career Gear has helped over 35,000 men transition from poverty to employment and financial self-sufficiency.
Yankees players, including Derek Jeter and Jacob Ellsbury, visited Career Gear's office in lower Manhattan, where they helped to measure and outfit men with suits provided by DKNY.
In March 2004, 9-year-old Jaclyn Murphy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. When the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team learned about what Jaclyn was going through they "adopted" her as an honorary member of the team. Later that spring, Northwestern won its first-ever national championship.
Seeing how much it meant to his daughter's recovery, Jaclyn's father, Denis, started Friends of Jaclyn, a foundation created to improve the quality of life of pediatric brain tumor patients by pairing them with collegiate and high school sports teams.
During their HOPE Week day, children in the Friends of Jaclyn program became honorary team members, receiving their own lockers in the clubhouse and joining the team for pregame activities.
The non-profit group Musicians on Call provides volunteer musicians for hospital visits. Since its inception 15 years ago, the organization has had hundreds of volunteer musicians perform for over 300,000 individuals, with a focus on reaching patients who are confined to their rooms and afforded very little interaction with others due to their illnesses.
Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren and Chase Whitley, as well as former Yankee Bernie Williams went to the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian, where they performed in a concert with Musicians on Call in the hospital's "Winter Garden." They then visited patients who were confined to their rooms and were unable to attend the concert.
When Quai Jefferson's mother, Vaida Jefferson, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 11 years ago, her son was just 6 years old. By the time he was 10, he was running the household, cooking, doing laundry and taking care of his mother in all respects. Now 18 years old, Quai recently graduated from St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey, where he was on the honor roll and a two-sport varsity athlete. This summer, he will attend the U. of Delaware, where he will play football and major in business administration. Yankees players CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Dellin Betances, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, Yangervis Solarte and Jose Ramirez along with YES Network broadcaster and former Yankee John Flaherty met Quai and his mother for a surprise lunch at Quai's high school. The group was joined by select members of the St. Joseph Regional faculty who have had a profound influence on Quai's life.
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.
On the very first HOPE Week celebration day, the Yankees reached out to Marco and Jennifer Chiappetta and their Patchwork for Young Leaders Society. The Chiappettas have opened their hearts and home to become mentors to at-risk young people in their Washington Heights neighborhood. Yankees players Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera along with Manager Joe Girardi visited the Chiappettas' apartment this afternoon to spend time with Marco, Jennifer and the teenagers, distributing athletic equipment courtesy of Modell's and food vouchers courtesy of White Rose.
On the second day of HOPE Week, the Yankees celebrated Tom Ellenson, an inspirational Little Leaguer with cerebral palsy, and his father Richard, who created a device that allows non-verbal individuals like his son to more easily communicate. Yankees players Alex Rodriguez, Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte along with Hitting Coach Kevin Long met Tom and his best friends for lunch at Out of the Kitchen, a Greenwich Village restaurant, then walked across the street to J.J. Walker Little League Field where his teammates and other children with cerebral palsy participated in a rally and baseball clinic involving Yankees players.
George Murray was a 38-year-old veteran of the Army's 82nd Airborne who had lost use of his arms and legs due to ALS. His wife, Kim, was a speech pathology teacher to children suffering from Down syndrome and autism. Attending a Yankees game with his 4-year-old son, Trason, was one of George's biggest dreams.
During a party at their Upstate New York home, George was shown a videotaped message from Mark Teixeira, inviting him to fulfill his dream with his son. The date of the game happened to fall on George and Kim's ninth anniversary. Unbeknownst to George, Yankees players, along with 30 friends and family from home, surprised him in a suite at the Stadium. Following the game, George and his family received a private Stadium tour from Yankees players, including Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Brian Bruney, Phil Coke, Phil Hughes and Cody Ransom.
Camp Sundown is a safe haven for children with Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare (approx. 150 in U.S. and 1,000 worldwide) genetic disorder that prevents those who have it from going outdoors in daylight. Any UV light, including fluorescent lighting, causes severe burns and eventually skin and eye cancer. Most patients do not live past the age of 20.
XP campers and their families traveled to Yankee Stadium from Camp Sundown on Thursday evening, arriving after dark at 8:40 p.m. After the last pitch of the Yankees game, the field was transformed into a massive open-air carnival, with music, food, and children's entertainers. XP campers were joined by GM Brian Cashman and Yankees players and their families, including Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Brett Gardner, Cody Ransom, David Robertson, Mark Melancon, Jose Molina, Bullpen Coach Mike Harkey, 3B Coach Rob Thomson, 1B Coach Mick Kelleher and Assistant Trainer Steve Donohue. The campers played on the field into the morning, boarding their bus at 4:00 a.m., in order to make it back to camp before daybreak.
On the final day of the first HOPE Week, the Yankees reached out to Ranjit Seal and Melvin Williams, two young men who both have developmental disabilities. With the help of YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities, they have integrated into society, having been hired to share mailroom responsibilities at Ahmuty, Demers and McManus, a Manhattan law firm willing to give them an opportunity. Yankees players Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia and Johnny Damon surprised Ranjit and Melvin at work and took part in their day, helping them to deliver the mail. After a lunchtime party at the firm, Ranjit and Melvin rode back to the Bronx with the Yankees players to meet Yankee Stadium's mailroom staff. The pair was then asked to put their skills on display by helping to deliver mail to players in the Yankees clubhouse.