NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees wrapped up HOPE Week 2012 (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) on Friday by celebrating the Children's Alopecia Project (CAP) and the group's founders, the Woytovich family.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi and current Yankees players Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones, Ivan Nova, Cory Wade, Raul Ibanez and Dewayne Wise surprised 18 CAP boys and girls and their families at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx on Friday afternoon, but the guest list didn't stop there.
Former Yankees players Reggie Jackson, Darryl Strawberry and David Wells were also in attendance, along with current bullpen coach Mike Harkey, former Rutgers football player and current HOPE Week ambassador Eric LeGrand and Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creature "Bald Vinny" Milano.
CAP was founded by Jeff Woytovich, whose daughter, Madison, was diagnosed with alopecia in 2003 when she was just 5 years old. The autoimmune disease -- which causes the immune system to mistakenly attack hair follicles -- caused her to lose all of her hair.
On the inside, Madison was and still is no different than any other healthy girl, but Jeff worried that her lack of hair would make it difficult for his daughter to maintain high levels of self-esteem and confidence. To ensure she would, Jeff searched for support groups for children suffering with the disease, but none existed.
As a result, Jeff founded CAP in 2004, and has since watched it grow to 15 support groups in the United States, with additional associated groups in Hong Kong, Canada, South America and Russia. CAP now has over 1,000 registered families.
"From the very beginning, we just wanted to help our daughter, who lost her hair at 5," Jeff said. "It was never supposed to be bigger than it was, but it grew because there were more families out there with kids that needed more.
"We were just happy that as we found more people, we became bigger. And with more awareness, we were able to get funding. And with more funding, we were able to do more things. It just became a machine, and it grew into something great."
"Great" was an understatement of what both CAP kids and their families thought of Friday's event, which included head painting, a scavenger hunt and arts and crafts.
"It means a lot that they would take the time out of their day to meet with us," 12-year old CAP kid Alexa Schwerhzi said.
On Friday, the 18 CAP kids didn't hesitate to paint anything from flowers to polka dots on the heads of Wells, Ibanez, Jones and Strawberry.
"More than anything, it's their day," Strawberry said. "It's not about us, it's about them. I think that's what we always have to remember.
"This is about kids being able to be who they are, no matter what their conditions are. They're able to be who they are and have fun."
Bleacher Creature "Bald Vinny" didn't get his head painted, but was still thrilled to be invited by the Yankees to partake in the event.
"As part of the Bleacher Creatures, it feels great to be considered part of the Yankee family and be asked to contribute to something like this," he said. "To lend our support is great, and we're here and happy to help out."
The Yankees presented CAP with a $10,000 check to kick off the event, and invited all of the families in attendance to enjoy Friday night's game against the White Sox from a luxury box at Yankee Stadium.
Jeff, who said he is rarely at a loss of words, struggled to find the right ones to describe just how important the day was to his entire family and all those in attendance.
"It's overwhelming in a good way," he said. "When you bring the kids together, that's enough to help them. So when you can bring them together and add in guys like Darryl Strawberry, Reggie Jackson, A-Rod and all of the great players from this organization, it really makes it special."