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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.