When Jeff Woytovich and his wife, Betsy, created the Children's Alopecia Project (CAP) in 2004, it was a chance to help those inflicted with the alopecia -- a disease that causes hair loss -- to gain confidence and self-esteem as they endured trying times.
The couple's daughter, Madison, was diagnosed in 2003.
"A lot of these kids don't feel normal," explained Woytovich. "So when you get to be with kids that feel just like you, you now feel normal and get to do things and feel in ways that you never did before."
Friday afternoon at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, members of CAP were able to feel normal among some of baseball's current and former stars as the Yankees stopped by to conclude HOPE Week. The eighteen members of CAP who showed up from as far as Houston, Tex. enjoyed a wide range of activities with the Bombers on a hot day.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, former Yankees David Wells and Darryl Strawberry, manager Joe Girardi, current Yankees Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Dewayne Wise and Cory Wade, and former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand all participated. The Yankees presented CAP with a $10,000 check and all the CAP families were invited to Friday night's game against the White Sox.
"This was the surprise of a lifetime," said Aaron Friedman, a 14-year-old from Cleveland who is diagnosed with alopecia. "Meeting all these players and seeing them give back to the community, there's nothing like it. It's the greatest feeling in the world."
Alopecia is a disease that is caused by the body's immune system attacking hair follicles, which causes smooth, roundish patches of hair loss. The disease strikes approximately four million people in the United States. After the Woytovich family couldn't find a support network for kids with the disease, they created their own, which has expanded internationally and includes more than 1,000 families.
Since a handful of the stars who showed up Friday were bald, including Jones, Wade, Wise, Ibanez and Wells, the CAP kids were able to paint on their heads. Some painted specific objects, while there was an attempt to put the Yankees' logo on top of Jones' head. Ibanez said being bald gave him and some of the other players a bond with the kids.
"It gives you a talking point right away," Ibanez said. "These kids, having to go through some of the things they've had to go through, this is really about trying to build their self-esteem and show them it's OK to be bald."
When they weren't having their heads painted, the Yankees were leading scavenger hunts. Taijha Williams, a 13-year-old with alopecia from Jersey City, N.J., paired up with her favorite Yankee, Nova, and the two could be seen smiling as they walked side-by-side through the gardens -- even though they got lost twice along the way.
"I loved that she's interacting and feeling comfortable in her own skin. Obviously that's the goal but day to day it's a challenge," said Williams' mother, Denise Rolon. "This event, she gets to let her hair down and really appreciate the fact that they know she has alopecia and don't treat her any differently."