Photo Below: Quai Jefferson (left) chats with Yankee All-Star Derek Jeter

NEW YORK  --  For much of his life, 18-year old Quai Jefferson has selflessly cared for his mother, Vaida, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

But for one day last week, thanks to the New York Yankees and their annual HOPE Week celebration, Quai was deservedly the center of attention.  

It was quite a day for Quai (pronounced “kway”) last Friday, June 20, as members of the Yankees organization, including several current players, honored the soon-to-be University of Delaware football student-athlete for his inspirational story and his selfless service over the last several years as he sacrificed many of the activities taken for granted by today’s teenagers to meet the everyday needs of his mother, who was diagnosed with the disease 11 years ago.

Now in its sixth year, the Yankees' HOPE Week initiative (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) highlights a different individual, family or organization worthy of recognition and support for their acts of goodwill. The Yankees then surprise the individual with the day of their dreams.

Thinking he was simply being honored with a barbecue by the teachers of his high school, St. Joseph’s High School in Montvale, N.J., Quai entered the school courtyard with his mother and was overwhelmed by a large throng of family, friends, teachers, and media members waiting to honor him.

Moments later, he was introduced to nine current members of the Yankees - Dellin Betances, Kelly Johnson, Brian McCann, Jose Ramirez, Brendan Ryan, CC Sabathia, Yangervis Solarte, Masahiro Tanaka, and Mark Teixeira as well as Saint Joseph High alum and Yankees television broadcaster John Flaherty.

Former St. Joseph’s football standouts and current National Football League players Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty were also on hand to honor Quai. Quai and his mother, who is in a wheelchair, posed for photos and conducted interviews throughout the event.

Quai was able to spend some time huddling with the Yankees players and was later whisked away to Yankee Stadium where he met manager Joe Girardi and several more players on the field during batting practice. He later threw out the first pitch - a perfect strike down the middle - before retiring to the Yankees suite with his mother to enjoy the game, a 5-3 victory over the Orioles.

The story is truly a remarkable and inspirational one. When Vaida Jefferson was diagnosed with MS, Quai was just six years old. By the time he was 10, he was running the household, doing the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry and caring for his mother. He even checked his mother’s blood pressure and injected her twice a day with Copaxone, a drug which eases the effects of MS.

“A lot of people go through tough times and my story kind of shows them that even though you can hit rock bottom, you can come out on top,” Quai told the Newark Star-Ledger, which first reported his remarkable story last fall (TV’s Fox and Friends also aired a feature in December). “So no matter what, you put your best foot forward and everything will be taken care of. She’s truly my heart, my rock and my stone. She’s all I have.”

So while most kids his age were out with friends after school, Quai took over the duties of running a household and caring for his mother, never complaining. But his responsibilities at home certainly didn’t stop his athletic career by any means.

He played wide receiver, cornerback, and kick returner at St. Joseph’s for head coach Tony Karcich and earned All-State honors as a senior when he led the team to its third straight state title. He also was a four-year varsity performer in basketball and was an honor roll student.

He will be a freshman wide receiver at Delaware this fall and is already taking classes this semester in preparation for the fall. His mother has moved into a first floor apartment in Woodland Park for easier access and is being looked after by a professional caregiver. She and Quai speak by phone everyday and she plans to attend at least one game this coming fall.
“Quai has shown unbelievable resolve and character and we are lucky to be involved in the life of a young guy like that,” said Delaware head coach Dave Brock, who was also on hand at Yankee Stadium to help honor Quai. “He is a great player but a better person. It’s pretty special what he has achieved.”

It’s clear that the Yankees players embrace HOPE Week and were truly inspired by Quai’s story as well.

“I’m just amazed about everything he goes through every day,” Sabathia said of Quai. “And he’s able to still get a scholarship and be a great athlete. It’s tough. It doesn’t seem like there’s enough hours in the day. But he’s a great kid.”