Sweet dreams: HOPE Week ends in kitchen
Yankees honor Squeo, 'Baking Memories 4 Kids,' which funds vacations for sick children, families
WEST NYACK, N.Y. -- As soon as Frank Squeo walked around the corner and saw a child wearing a gray HOPE Week shirt, he instantly knew what was going on.
He looked up, and there was Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Greg Bird, Brendan Ryan, Adam Warren, Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova gathered at Rockland BOCES in West Nyack, N.Y., on Friday, ready to help Squeo, his family and other members of the organization "Baking Memories 4 Kids" bake cookies.
"Keep standing and don't fall to the ground," Squeo said he told himself. "And all I could do is cry."
Squeo was honored as part of the fifth and final day of the Yankees' annual HOPE Week for creating "Baking Memories 4 Kids" -- a nonprofit organization that sells chocolate-chip cookies during the holiday season in order to fund an all-expenses paid vacation for the families of children with life-threatening illnesses.
The families are sent to the Give Kids the World Village in Orlando, Fla., a resort designed specifically for children with disabilities and illnesses. During the vacations, the children and their families have the opportunity to visit any of the Orlando-area amusement parks and receive VIP treatment.
Squeo said the idea to create the charity came to him while he was recovering from his own health problems, after being diagnosed with Stage III testicular cancer. As he underwent chemotherapy and surgeries, he noticed the alarming number of children fighting their own battles.
That's when he had the idea to start this charity.
"It was as if someone handed me a piece of paper with instructions," he said.
Keeping Friday afternoon a secret from Squeo was not as easy. His wife told him they were going to a family function, and she tried her best to deflect his numerous questions for more details.
Once he arrived, Squeo spent the rest of the day beaming. He said he grew up a huge Yankees fan, and at the age of 16, he cobbled together enough money for season tickets. The Yankees donated $10,000 to the organization and joined him in preparing a batch of cookies, which by all accounts tasted good.
"I think they did great," Squeo said. "My biggest concern was that they didn't burn their hands and I lost a Yankee.
"This is an undreamable experience, if that's even a word. You close your eyes and dream, dream of what your best thing could possibly be in life and then dream again, and that's what this is like."
Squeo was joined by some other members of "Baking Memories 4 Kids" to watch batting practice on the field at Yankee Stadium prior to Friday's game against the Indians. Also before the game, the Yankees partnered with the organization to surprise the family of 4-year-old Noah Diaz, who suffers from a rare heart defect and Kabuki syndrome, with an all-expenses paid vacation.
Both Squeo and Diaz threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"It's incredible, because we build memories," said Lissette Diaz, Noah's mother. "We've had so many, I guess, bad memories, long months of staying in the hospital, especially for Noah. And he's such a free child, and to be able to be free and to be able to just feel that he can be like any other child and take advantage of what everybody else can do -- run, play, swim, see Mickey Mouse -- for me, I feel great."