30 Days of Thanks – Day 20 – Thankful for Disney

So, you had to know this was coming.  I wouldn’t be able to get through 30 days without being thankful for the Mouse and all it’s meant to me.

My first real vacation with Jim was to Walt Disney World, and my honeymoon was to Walt Disney World.  That made the earliest happy memories, the foundation of my life with my husband, of Walt Disney World and how much fun we had together.

When we moved to Orlando in 1993, the first thing we did – without jobs to pay for them – was buy annual passes.  We were thousands of miles away from family and friends, and having a fun, familiar place to go while people at home were enjoying turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or celebrating a family birthday we couldn’t be home for took some of the sting of homesickness away.

EPCOT is where Eilis took her first steps unassisted, and it’s where Granuaile had her first popsicle – and Itzakadoozie pop that gave her baby brain freeze.  We’ve got wonderful memories of Brighid dancing in a parade, Eilis hugging Donald Duck, Granuaile window kissing Goofy.

Then, in November of 2008, when I was selected to be on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I acquired a whole family of amazing people who have become my lifelong friends.  Along with them, I’ve been introduced to others in the Disney community who have taken up residence in my heart, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without them (I’m talking to you, Jackie P  and my bonus children, Amy and Anthony!!).

Today, with all of y’all’s eye rolling and fake gagging when I mention my beloved Walt Disney World, I’m so thankful for Disney.  And I’m so thankful for the people it’s brought to my life, enhancing it in ways I’d never imagined possible.

Walt Disney World Moms Panel “Rejects”? I Don’t Think So!

It’s that time of year again.  People I know, respect, and love have applied to be members of an elite group of Walt Disney World experts.  We are the pink wearing, park loving, question answering team of Walt Disney World Moms Panel moms.  We don’t work for Walt Disney World (we are independent contractors, with our own opinions that do not necessarily reflect those of WDW), but we were all, at some point in the past four years, chosen by Walt Disney World to answer questions to people who are planning Walt Disney World vacations.

 

Each year, it seems that I meet more and more people who are anxious to proudly don the bright pink polo that us Moms love to hate.  They ask for my opinion on what it might take for them to join the special forces of the Moms Panel – like what should they say – or not say – when they answer their essays?  Should they go to the Moms Panel meet and greet, dress flamboyantly, wave a banner that flashes in neon lights “Pick Me!!”?  Should they sell their soul, brush up on Disney trivia, or switch teams and start going to Universal Studios?

And this is the day each year that I dread.  As excited as I am for those people I know and love to move on to Round 2, I am so sad for the people I know and love who are not moving on.  I’ve gotten a couple of private messages from people wanting to know why they’re such rejects.  Rejects?  Are you serious?

These are the people I have learned from.  They are the DisBoard members who answer every question with such helpful expertise, you’d think they were Walt Disney World cast members.  They are the bloggers who dedicate considerable time and great effort posting the latest news and special reports from Disney.   They are podcasters that I tune into to make sure I’m on top of my game when it comes to information and advice about Disney. 

Rejects? No.  They are the REASON.  They are the reason there is a Moms’ Panel.  They helped open up the doors on the social media world so that Disney could walk in, step up, and start this awesome panel.

Don’t be disappointed.  Don’t think you did something wrong, wrote something wrong, shook a wrong hand at a meet and greet.  Just know that you spread Disney happiness in a way that the Moms’ Panel aspired to do.  The brand of pixie dust you sprinkle may not be the official, WDW sanctioned variety, but it is no less magical.

I hope we are living up to the legacy you have all established.

Disney Moms Panel Reunion Expedition Everest 5K Part Two – Give Kids the World

A few months ago, the moms on the panel began talking about a way to give something back for the wonderful cosmic gift of the opportunity to be on the Moms Panel.  My friend Dolores had a granddaughter who nearly died from leukemia, but during her illness, her family was given the opportunity to stay at Give Kids the World in Kissimmee.
 The Village houses the families of seriously ill children who make a wish to visit the Orlando area and the attractions, such as Walt Disney World.  We decided we wanted to make GKTW our pet project, so we began raising money for the organization.

The money poured in from the moms all over the globe.  At first, I had hoped to raise maybe $500; but with the generosity of the Moms, $1000 became a realistic goal.  When it was said and done, we donated $1550 to the Village! 
We had the great fortune to meet Pam Landwirth, the president of the Village, who gave us some background and information on this absolutely remarkable place.  We could have listened to her talk for hours on the experiences of families here at Give Kids the World, and when she speaks, you hear in her voice not only her extensive Disney background, but her love for the Village and the families.  She seemed genuinely touched by the donation, and I hope we can do her proud by continuing to be ambassadors for the Village through our blogs, Twitter, and our every day lives.
The sites that you will see here will fill you with wonder and amazement.  While the potential for a visit to the Village to be filled with sadness and pity is great, you will find none of that, anywhere, no matter how hard you look.  Every i has been dotted and every t crossed in making sure the children and their families have an experience that Tinkerbell herself couldn’t have sprinkled more pixie dust over.  Ice cream for breakfast? No problem.  Horseback riding?  Whenever you’re ready.  Christmas every week?  Done.  It simply would not be possible for a family to leave here not feeling renewed, refreshed, and ready to resume the battle against devastating medical illnesses. 
I haven’t any room for sarcastic wit in this blog post.  Just know that each year, when you are figuring out your charity budget for the coming year, you must put Give Kids the World at the top of your list.  Here are just a few of the pictures from our visit.
   
   
So, while everything and everyone here is so upbeat and positive, I admit that the visit was not without it’s moments of sadness.  Aside from a few brief tears, I had managed to hold it together fairly well, until we got towards the second portion of our tour of the Village.
We went into one building, and everywhere you looked, there were stars in the sky.  Our tour guide talked to us about this fabulous thing, where each child that comes to the Village puts his or her name on a star, and in a process that could have easily been thought up by the Disney folks, a magical fairy comes and grabs the star, and plants it up in the sky for each child.  I was so impressed by the whole Star Fairy video, the shaking box, the whole photo thing, that I was taken completely off guard when I looked up at the stars surrounding me.
 
It’s not that I didn’t know they were there from the time I walked in, the reality of their existence finally hit me after watching the adorable Star Fairy ceremony.  I gazed up toward the stars, making out names like Matthew, Sarah, Justin, Max – there were 70,000 stars on the ceiling, and as I thought to myself that among the 70,000 children, many didn’t live to see another Christmas or birthday, the tears just began pouring down.  I nearly felt as though I might have to remove myself from the tour, as I was completely overcome by the devastation these families must have felt upon learning of their child’s life threatening illness. 
And in the moment that it seemed I might not be able to take another breath, standing their under the gleaming stars, we were introduced to a volunteer couple responsible not only for putting the stars in the sky, but for helping the children with the Build a Pillow machine.  The moment of overwhelming sadness is washed away by the bubbles pouring out of the machine.
In a matter of only a few seconds, this team of volunteers cleansed the room of the feelings of desperate sadness and replaced them with the lightness of bubbles.  I can’t adequately describe for you the happiness that happens here.
Another of the buildings we went into that touched me beyond words was the chapel.  The chapel was built by request of the many families who have visited the village, and the building is flooded with light, decorated with stained glass representations of the four seasons, and bursting with love and tranquil spirit.  There are journals here for families to log their feelings and emotions, or just to leave messages for those who may travel the same road behind them.  The chapel was a powerful place.

Our visit to the Village was just about over, but the memories of the tour will remain with me forever.  I am hoping to go back in the spring for a weekend to work some volunteer shifts, and I plan to do what I can to continue to raise funds for and awareness of this amazing place.  It seems that every smile a child shares during his or her time there lingers to create an umbrella of warmth and happiness for the families that come after.  As much as I love Disney World, I think Give Kids the World might truly be the happiest place on earth.

Please visit their website at www.gktw.org to see how you can help support the continuing efforts of this incredible place.