The 18-year-old works six days a week at a Wendy’s on Third Avenue in the Bronx to save money for when she starts Baruch College in the fall. She was in the middle of taking an order when Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Francisco Cervelli walked straight up to her and gave her a hug.
"I kind of knew something was up because my mom kept telling me my life was going to change on Friday,” said Melida. “And I thought who could change my life? The Yankees. But this isn't really what I expected."
Ramiro Pena, Sergio Mitre, David Robertson, and bench coach Tony Pena were also on hand to greet the family. The Yankees chose to recognize the Arias women on the last day of 2010 HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere and Excel).
"When I heard the story I almost cried,” said Yankees second baseman, Robinson Cano. “Because it was a sad story. They didn’t have no clothes or anything, one sister wanted to go to college but couldn’t."
For sixteen years the Arias women never had a permanent home. Maria Pena split up with her husband when her daughter Melida Arias was just one year old. Working as a cab driver, Pena had trouble supporting Melida and her older sister Johanna, so they ended up homeless.
For sixteen long years they traveled from boardinghouse to rented room to homeless shelter and back again. Last year, with help from the group Women in Need, they finally found a home, but their troubles did not end.
Johanna, now 20 years old, was accepted into Syracuse University when she graduated Bronx Leadership Academy High School, but could not go because her mother became disabled and could no longer work. Johanna had to work full time at a fast food restaurant to support her family. If she is bitter about the choice she made, she does not show it.
“I realize I might be able to go to college later but right now it's not really a reality,” said Johanna. “As long as one of us goes, that is what’s important to me. And anyway, she can pay for my college when she's done.”
All week long, members of the Yankees organization have been visiting well-deserving people. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez said all it takes is a little time to make a big difference.
“The message is you don't have to open up your checkbooks or give a lot of money but everyone can give a little bit of their time. For us we get so much out of it by giving back and I know we're going to make their day one to remember," Rodriguez said
Rodriguez and company whisked the sisters away in a private car and drove them to the DKNY store in Manhattan where they sisters were treated to a shopping spree. The Yankees are also helping the sisters obtain paid internships. Johanna will get to work in the healthcare field and next summer, after her freshman year of college, Melida will intern with the Yankees.
“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it,” Melida said through tears. “I’m just so thankful.”