Yankees HOPE Week Day 4: Sal Reale & Wish Of A Lifetime

On Thursday, as part of HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) Week, Yankees players Greg Bird, Chad Green, Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve, Tyler Austin and Jonathan Holder celebrated the organization “Wish of a Lifetime,” which grants senior citizens dreams from their bucket lists.

They joined 87-year-old Sal Reale, his son Nick and grandson Nick in visiting Sal’s old firehouse FDNY LADDER 136 FDNY Engine 287/Ladder 136/Battalion 46 in Elmhurst, where reminisced and share stories with current firefighters.

The Yankees, Sal’s family and the firefighters had lunch together at the firehouse.

Sal Reale with Jonathan Holder. Courtesy of the Yankees.

Sal Reale threw out the first pitch before the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays game on Thursday night Yankee Stadium.

Sal Reale fires the first pitch. Courtesy of the Yankees.

Reale also got the chance to meet Yankees legend Ron Guidry, who was there to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his 18-strikeout game in 1978 and his bobblehead night.

Sal Reale chatting with Ron Guidry. Courtesy of the Yankees.

“Wish of a Lifetime” and Sal Reale:

Born and raised in the Bronx in the 1930s and 40s, Sal Reale can still remember the weekends when his dad was off from work and the pair would venture together to Yankee Stadium to see Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.

As a young man, Sal served two years in the U.S. Army as a radio operator in Germany during the Korean War before returning home to focus his efforts on protecting the safety and security of his fellow New Yorkers. He became a transit officer for a few years, then switched uniforms to become a firefighter, serving a number of firehouses throughout the city for more than 20 years. Aside from risking his life to save others through his various vocations, Sal, along with his wife, raised two sons and were very involved in the lives of their children.

He and his wife made the family decision to move to the St. Petersburg, Florida, area at the end of his FDNY service in 1977, but he still misses New York and its people immensely. Before it gets too late, he wants to visit the Queens firehouse where he was appointed to reminisce about the old days and swap stories with the firefighters who currently serve there. A visit home could ease the pain of having lost his eldest son five years ago in a car accident.

What solution exists for those like Sal, now in a nursing home, whose modest means do not allow him to live out his final dreams? An answer is offered by the Denver-based national organization “Wish of a Lifetime,” which provides the funding, support and logistics for seniors in their twilight years to fulfill the meaningful aspirations at the top of their bucket lists.

Wish of a Lifetime connects seniors to people, purpose and passions to eliminate feelings of isolation and help them live vibrant, purposeful lives. The organization’s mission is to shift the way society views and values our oldest generations by fulfilling seniors’ dreams and sharing their stories to inspire those of all ages. Realized wishes make other goals seem possible and encourages recipients to keep dreaming and pursuing their passions.

The organization was founded in 2008 by former U.S. skier Jeremy Bloom as a tribute to his beloved grandmother, Donna Wheeler. Jeremy’s grandparents played a significant role in his life — his grandmother Donna lived with them as he was growing up, and his grandfather Jerry taught him how to ski when he was 3 years old by throwing candy bars down the mountain slopes.

As a member of the United States Ski Team, Jeremy, a two-time Olympian, had the opportunity to travel around the globe for ski competitions. While in Japan for one of his first World Cup competitions, he witnessed a small act of kindness that would stick with him forever. Jeremy was riding near the back of a very crowded bus when an elderly woman approached the doors. Just as he was wondering how the woman could stand in the packed bus, everyone in the front immediately rose from their seats, helped her aboard, bowed to her and made sure she was seated comfortably before the bus moved forward. At 17, Jeremy was struck by this overt and demonstrative expression of respect. Jeremy founded Wish of a Lifetime in order to cultivate that same culture of respect in the United States.

“I have been very fortunate in my own life to have had the ability and the resources to chase every dream that I have ever imagined,” said Bloom, “and I am honored to start an organization that will help others do the same.”

“I can’t even explain how wonderful my visit was,” said Bobbie Ulrich, 83, whose fascination with wildlife led Wish of a Lifetime to send her on a trip to Big Run Wolf Ranch, where she fed baby wolves and experienced the great outdoors. “It was a dream come true. It was a blessing and changed my whole life around at that time. I was depressed about my husband’s death, and this visit saved me.”

As part of this proposed HOPE Week celebration, the Yankees worked with Wish of a Lifetime to make Sal’s dreams of returning home come true.

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