My family just enjoyed an amazing week at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios thanks to the collaboration of several amazing organizations. Our trip was entirely organized by and paid for by the Make-A-Wish Foundation*. After I applied for Lauren’s Wish, they interviewed her, surprised her with gifts, and then agreed to send her to Disney World–holy wow, what an amazing gift for our entire family!
After weeks of emails and a face-to-face meeting with local SWA management, Southwest Airlines happily carried our precious cargo to and from Orlando. They waved off our extra baggage fees–and our heavy baggage fees (pallets and pallets of Pediasure)–escorted us to check-in, escorted us to our gate, the ground crew conferred with us and allowed my husband to escort the (empty) wheelchairs down to the tarmac. They installed car seats for the twins in the aircraft, announced to all passengers that this was Lauren’s Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World, and allowed the kids to visit the cockpit–and that special treatment was just on our outbound flight. For our inbound flight, our family was met by TSA at the curb (in a good way!), escorted to the Southwest ticket counter, escorted through the security line, and helped us lug our carry-ons to our gate. And there in Orlando, they also allowed my husband to escort the $65,000 wheelchairs plane-side, installed the twins’ car seats onto the plane, and were entirely attentive to our family during the 4+ hour flight. All this PLUS they had to clean up someone else’s puke in the rear lavatory AND had to announce that whoever left their dentures in the lav should press their call button. They don’t wear capes, but those flight attendants were Super Heroes, ya’ll.
Back to Orlando: We stayed at Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee–have you ever heard of it? It’s a community of cottages, eateries, swimming pools, and other goings-on–completely catering to Wish kids or otherwise medically fragile children who are in Orlando to visit the theme parks. A stay in this adorable and luxurious village is offered for free to families who enjoy/suffer/ the blessing/curse of even needing a Make-A-Wish at all. But the Village is so cheerful, so uplifting, so accommodating and offers SO much free ice cream (beginning at 7:30am for breakfast and closing at 9:30pm before bed) (HUZZAH!). The children enjoyed their first horseback rides, visits with Goofy, Pluto, and Belle, and a “Pirate & Princess Party” which has no rival. As their parents, there is nothing more joyful than seeing them surrounded by characters and people so devoted to their happiness. I cried a few times during the Pirate & Princess Party and tried to hide it, but I know a few others noticed–I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. And when Lauren visited the pillow tree to “make” her pillow, and the wishing well to make her wish, her joy really was priceless. She sleeps with her new fairy pillow every night. And when she cast her little gold star with her name on it into the Star Fairy machine, I almost lost it. I looked up and saw thousands of stars–one star for every kiddo who has spent time at Give Kids the World. Given the nature of the program, I know that so many of those kids aren’t with us anymore, and that was really the first time in a long while that I’ve considered that my own children won’t be with me forever. Such is the nature of their disease.
(closing her eyes, as she throws her coin into the well to make a wish.)
Give Kids the World is entirely run on donations and volunteers–their carousel is run by a volunteer. Their cafeteria (“Gingerbread House”) is completely operated by dozens of volunteers. Their “Kids Night Out, Parents’ Night In” program is run by local volunteers. Their meal delivery is–you guessed it–run by volunteers. Their semi-weekly horseback riding program is operated by volunteers. Give Kids the World overall is the daily operation of an enormously successful mass of generous donors and volunteers–and we couldn’t be more thankful for or more proud of them.
Our time spent at Disney World and Universal Studios was completely out-of-this-world amazing, but that’s another blog post. SWA and Give Kids the World deserve my spotlight this week. You folks were amazing. Your hard work made an amazing week for my kid. And for my family. We don’t get many “amazing” weeks, so this one was for the record books. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
*Did you know that the MakeA-Wish Foundation was founded here in Arizona? It started with a little boy who wanted to be a police officer for the day. Read the story here.
Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl. Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for muscular dystrophy at byrdsforacure.org.