Results tagged ‘ Mike Harkey ’

HOPE Week: Birthday Wishes

The Yankees celebrated Birthday Wishes, a group that throws birthday parties for homeless children in an effort to lift their self-esteem and bring joy into their families’ lives, on the fourth day of HOPE Week 2013 (Helping Others Persevere & Excel).

Homeless families with children celebrating birthdays this month were the Yankees’ special guests Thursday at Yankee Stadium. The group arrived at the Gate 2 lobby before visiting the field, entering through the centerfield fence. They walked around the warning track to the Yankees dugout, where they met manager Joe Girardi.

The group then was brought to a where Yankees players Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, David Phelps and bullpen coach Mike Harkey were waiting to surprise them with a birthday party, including live music, games, food and cake.


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. Sometimes, the only things they have are things to look forward to.

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 one of their own children’s birthday parties) that the birthdays of children living at shelters often went unnoticed and uncelebrated.

Their subsequent research indicated that no organizations existed for the sole purpose of providing birthday parties to these children and that most homeless shelters do not have the personnel or resources to put together a party.

“In speaking to many of the homeless mothers when we started this project, we learned that many wouldn’t even let their younger ones know their birthday was coming up,” Vasiloff said. “Such was their shame in not being able to put together a party or afford a cake or a present.”

Parents are often unable to organize such an event. According to the National Center for Family Homelessness, “many experience anger, self-blame, sadness, fear and hopelessness.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s June 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress says, “a typical homeless family consists of a mother and two children.” The report also notes that more than three out of four adults in homeless families at shelters are women.

The first Birthday Wishes parties were held at the Second Step shelter in Newton, Mass. Within a few months, eight more shelters were added, and within three years, growth had doubled. Birthday Wishes currently serves more than 175 shelters and transitional living facilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Long Island.

“When Karen passed away in 2006, the organization was at a crossroads,” Vasiloff said. “But for me, the decision was obvious. I was in my mid-40s, and it became clear that staying with this mission was what I was meant to do with my life.”

The rapid and continued growth of Birthday Wishes is due in large part to community involvement and the spirit of volunteerism that it fosters. Everyone can relate to the importance of a birthday, and this has meant a great deal of grassroots support. Volunteers for the organization number in the thousands and include teens, adults and children participating with their families, scout troops, church groups, sports teams and school programs. Volunteers help to provide the party supplies needed for monthly parties and, most importantly, attend and assist in running the birthday parties. Most donations arrive from families who want to help with money or party supplies.

“I feel it’s important that no matter how big we get, we remain a grassroots organization,” Vasiloff said. “To this day, I still enjoy planning and taking part in the parties. To see the looks on the faces of the children and mothers is where you see the difference being made.”

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.

“Birthday Wishes provided [my daughter, Abigail] with a great party and a great toy,” said Gabrielle, a resident of the Mary-Eliza Mahoney House in Roxbury, Mass. “Without them, we wouldn’t have had anything.”

“Attending one of these parties is a transformative experience,” Vasiloff said. “For two hours, it is unmitigated joy. There are a lot of tears sometimes, but for all the right reasons.”

HOPE Week: Children’s Alopecia Project

The Yankees concluded HOPE Week 2012 Friday by celebrating the Children’s Alopecia Project (CAP) and the group’s founders, the Woytovich family. The Yankees’ contingent that surprised the CAP kids at a picnic at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx featured manager Joe Girardi; pitchers Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Rafael Soriano and Cory Wade; outfielders Andruw Jones and DeWayne Wise; third baseman Alex Rodriguez; bullpen coach Mike Harkey; former Yankees players Darryl Strawberry and David Wells; former Rutgers football player and HOPE Week ambassador Eric LeGrand and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.

Events included face- and head-painting, a scavenger hunt, lunch and games. After the picnic, CAP kids and their families were invited to the Stadium for the game against the White Sox. The Woytovich family and the children of CAP watched batting practice from the field and were part of pregame on-field ceremonies. Madison and Jeff threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

In October 2003, while Betsy Woytovich was undoing the braids of her 5-year-old daughter Madison, hair began coming out in clumps. A doctor confirmed that Madison had alopecia, an auto-immune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere in varying degrees, a condition that affects approximately four million Americans.

Madison’s father, Jeff, searched for a support network, but learned that there was no organization that focused on children with alopecia. Betsy and Jeff wanted to make sure that Madison and children like her maintained their confidence and self-esteem heading into their teenage years. So in August 2004, they created the Children’s Alopecia Project which focuses on three goals: to build self-esteem, provide support and raise awareness.

There are now 15 CAP Kids Support Groups around the country working with families from 30 states. Additionally, there are associated groups in Hong Kong, Canada, South America and Russia. More than 1,000 families are registered members of CAP, while at least 10,000 families have received information or been counseled by members of CAP.

HOPE Week: Game & city tour for Haitian refugees

The Yankees continued HOPE Week Wednesday by treating a group of Haitian refugees aged 7 to 13 to the game against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium followed by a special tour of the city.

Pitchers CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon; catcher Jorge Posada; bench coach Tony Pena and bullpen coach Mike Harkey will join the Haitian children from a Queens school for a tour of Manhattan on a Gray Line double-decker bus leaving directly from the Stadium.

Stops will include the United Nations, where representatives of the body will greet the children, followed by the Empire State Building, where the children will participate in a ceremonial lighting of the building followed by a photo opportunity with the Yankees from the observation deck.

The children and Yankees will then re-board the bus to visit Times Square. The final stop will be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Timothy Dolan will give a tour of the building and have dessert with the children in his private residence.

For 15 child refugees who endured the devastating earthquake in Haiti Jan. 12, 2010 were taken in by Sts. Joachim and Anne’s School in Queens Village. The children 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. One child walks 45 minutes each way to school. Another, who lost both of his parents, dreams of becoming president of his homeland so he can rebuild his nation.

Even the school’s parochial vicar, Rev. Jean-Moise Delva, 34, was not spared tragedy as his Haitian elementary school collapsed, killing the parish priest who was his mentor.

HOPE Week: Jorge Grajales, 13

The Yankees kicked off HOPE Week 2010 (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) Monday by celebrating quadruple amputee Jorge Grajales, 13, of North Haledon, N.J., and his foster parents, John and Faye Dyksen.

Pitchers Mariano Rivera and Dustin Moseley and outfielders Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner, along with batting coach Kevin Long and bullpen coach Mike Harkey, honored Jorge by throwing him a surprise pool party, which included his family and friends. The players then invited the group back to Yankee Stadium for the evening’s game against the Tigers.

When Jorge Grajales was an infant in Panama, a gangrenous infection left doctors with just one option: amputation of all four limbs. His birth family immediately realized they could not provide him the expensive, technical care he would need as he grew older, most notably the resources required for prosthetic fittings and maintenance. With limited social assistance available in his home country, his future was bleak. In all likelihood, he would eventually have to become dependent on begging for survival.
It was at this point that John and Faye Dyksen of North Haledon, N.J., entered his life. At the time, they already had five children, ranging in age from 12 to 21. They volunteered to host Jorge through their involvement with Healing the Children, a nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization dedicated to providing free medical care to needy children around the world. They had previously opened their hearts and home to two young girls with physical disabilities before Jorge’s plight came to their attention.
The original plan in June 1998 was for Jorge to spend six months with them while a charitable medical group made and fitted prosthetics for Jorge. Now 12 years later, most people in North Haledon have come to know Jorge. Since age 3, he has spent three-fourths of each year with the Dyksens because he cannot receive the medical care he needs in his homeland. Summers are spent in Panama with his biological parents, brother and sister.
This fall, Jorge will begin eighth grade at High Mountain Middle School in North Haledon. He attends classes just like any other student and has learned to do almost anything without having hands, including writing, typing and playing video games. He loves swimming and soccer and spends his Friday evenings from November through March serving supper to the homeless at his local church.
“I think it has made a big difference to treat him as another one of my kids,” Faye said. “For the most part, I encouraged him to do everything that anyone else can do. He has a lot of things to overcome, but God has given him the personality to make him soar.”

Eiland back on the job soon

A.J. Burnett has been a standup guy in not blaming his recent mound woes on anyone but himself, but the expected return of pitching coach Dave Eiland Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium couldn’t come too soon for the troubled righthander.

Perhaps as Burnett says that is just a coincidence, but his ragged stretch of five starts began June 4, precisely the day Eiland went on a leave of absence for a personal matter. While Eiland has been away, Burnett has gone 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA that has dropped his season record to 6-7 with a 5.25 ERA. Burnett has allowed 35 hits and 17 walks in 23 innings over this dismal period.

Eiland has been the Yankees’ pitching coach since 2008 and is adroit at detecting mechanical flaws in a pitcher’s delivery. Nothing against bullpen coach Mike Harkey, who is serving as interim pitching coach in Eiland’s absence, but a strong relationship usually develops between a pitching coach and his staff that is difficult to replace.

That said, it should be pointed out that the other starters have done well and as a team the Yankees were 12-8 and have picked up four games in the American League East standings, going from two games behind the Rays to two games ahead entering play Sunday night while Harkey was subbing for Eiland.

All the same, it is good news for the Yankees that Eiland will soon be back on the job.