Yankees’ decade of HOPE
The New York Yankees’ latest edition of HOPE Week will also double as a celebration of its first 10 years, a notable streak for an endeavor that has morphed into what is likely the organization’s most important philanthropic program.
HOPE, which stands for Helping Others Persevere and Excel, leverages the team’s massive platform in the country’s biggest media market to amplify people and groups who are doing laudable things for the community. Five people or groups are recognized each year, with one honoree highlighted each day.
The effort launched in 2009 and draws involvement from Yankees players and coaches, as well as team sponsors.
The Yankees have spent the better part of a year putting together this year’s special edition. In addition to highlighting honorees, events and content will feature some of those recognized in previous years.
“The biggest thing this year is we’re having each honoree from the first 10 years come back for the reunion, which is taking us months and months to coordinate,” said Jason Zillo, vice president of communications and media relations for the Yankees, who helped conceive HOPE Week when he scribbled some ideas on a dry-erase board for how the team could increase its community involvement.
The Yankees comb through scores of applications, letters and news articles to find top candidates. On top of typically sending players and coaches out to the honorees’ communities to surprise them with their selection and bringing them to Yankee Stadium to be recognized during a game, one of the aims of HOPE Week is to work with local and national media to tell the honorees’ stories.
This year’s honorees
Monday: Homecoming event at Yankee Stadium will recognize all previous honorees
Tuesday: Runway Heroes, which works with fashion brands to produce fashion shows featuring pediatric cancer fighters and survivors
Wednesday: Blind magician Olmedo Renteria
Thursday: Furniture Sharehouse, which provides families in Westchester County, N.Y., with basic household furnishings
Friday: AdaptAbility, which creates customized bicycles for children with special needs
For example, ESPN produced a video feature on 10-year-old Cassidy Warner, who was a 2018 HOPE Week honoree. She had posted a video to social media about how she was being bullied in school to raise awareness about the problem. CNN ran a piece in 2011 on a group of students who were refugees from the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010.
For the nonprofits recognized during HOPE Week, the exposure can amplify their mission and help them secure more donations to support their causes.
This year’s HOPE Week will start Monday at Yankee Stadium. Instead of honoring just one person or group that day, previous honorees will be invited to a family day at the ballpark. Activities will include face painters, a DJ, moon bounces and a lunch catered by Hard Rock Cafe. Honorees will then stay for the game against the Tampa Bay Rays that night, where they will be recognized on the field alongside players and coaches. Daniel’s Music Foundation — recognized in 2011 — will perform the national anthem at the game.
On Tuesday, Runway Heroes will be honored. The New York City-based nonprofit works with fashion brands to set up fashion shows featuring pediatric cancer fighters and survivors. Wednesday will honor blind magician Olmedo Renteria, who has been performing routines on New York City subways for decades. Thursday will honor Furniture Sharehouse, which provides families in New York’s Westchester County with basic household furnishings. The final day on Friday will recognize AdaptAbility, which creates customized bicycles for children with special needs.
The team had former players and past honorees shoot videos of their experience, which the Yankees will share throughout the week. For example, former Yankee Mark Teixeira is part of a video about a HOPE Week a decade ago, when he gave the 5-year-old son of an honoree a tour of the team’s clubhouse by pushing him around in a laundry cart. That child is now 15 and will be back at Yankee Stadium for this year’s HOPE Week.
The videos added to what was already a daunting set of logistics for this year’s event. For example, some of the past honorees are disabled, so setting up transportation to get so many of them to New York has taken additional time and effort.
As evidenced by Hard Rock Cafe, the team’s sponsors have worked to get involved. In all, more than 50 companies have taken part in HOPE Week over the years. Examples include Delta helping fly in those involved with the initiative and Party City providing props and other items for various events.
Zillo said the program wouldn’t be the success it is today without the involvement of the Yankees’ players and coaches. While the initiative started with the Yankees, the organization has since seen it spread through its farm system. Each of the Yankees’ U.S.-based affiliates has held its own HOPE Week program since 2012.
“When HOPE Week started, we knew we wanted to do things great — not just good — and buy-in and people lending their expertise in different departments was needed, especially with players,” Zillo said. “[The best part] is seeing the looks and smiles on people’s faces when they realize the Yankees are there to recognize them and their story.”