After seven years, my excitement for our annual trip to Give Kids The World Village is just as strong as ever, not an itch in site. Our Give Kids The World Alternative Break 2016 just started, and I will be here with 13 college students from upstate New York until March 20. Each day we will work as hard as we can to try to bring a smile or two to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, but I know they bring just as many smiles to our faces. Continue reading for thoughts and photos over the course of our Give Kids The World Alternative Break 2016 trip week, but for the most up-to-the-minute updates on our Give Kids The World visit be sure to follow along on instagram, twitter, and facebook as well.
If you’re not familiar, Give Kids The World (GKTW) is the whimsical, non-profit resort in Kissimmee, Florida where children with life-threatening illnesses stay with their families when they have a wish to visit Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, or anything related to Central Florida. Founded in 1986 by World War II Holocaust survivor Henri Landwirth, GKTW allows families to escape for one week on a restorative vacation. Watch the video below to hear the story of GKTW directly from Henri himself.
During Give Kids The World Alternative Break 2016 my college students and I will serve food; trick-or-treat with the kids; staff the carousel, pool and train; hold a Christmas parade; and more.
Putting the logistical details of the trip in place, grocery shopping, setting up our rental house, and runs to the airport.
— Dad/Dave Parfitt (@AdventuresByDad) March 12, 2016
And where do you take a group of 13 hungry college students, who just arrived in Florida, and want to fill up fast? Why, Waffle House, of course, a southern tradition, a GKTW Alternative Break Tradition, and breakfast for dinner!
After getting something to eat at Waffle House, we headed to GKTW for a tour and to learn more about the history of the Village. A couple of the students who had been on the trip in previous years were a bit emotional to be back, and everyone was excited to get started with our work in the Village the next day.
After meeting their shuttle to the airport at 3:45am, flying to Orlando, visiting GKTW, etc., the group crashed hard Saturday night, and were asleep by 9:00 pm (if not earlier). How’s that for breaking College Spring Breaker stereotypes? Our first volunteer shift started before 8:00 am, and we lost an hour for daylight savings time as well. However, their were no complaints about piling into the vans at 7:20 am to head to the Village. We were spread throughout the GKTW our first morning, some in the Castle of Miracles, a couple on the carousel, a few on Lori’s Magical Flight, and myself – I drove J.J.’s Express.
One of the last families to ride the train that first morning was an alumni family. Mom and Dad were returning with their little boy, perhaps 5 years old, maybe 6, and they were showing him where they had come for a special vacation with their daughter. “Sissy rode this train too,” mom said to the son as he rang the bell in the train engine. You could tell this was an emotional journey for mom. After the ride was over, she thanked me, and the son reached out his hand and gave me a quarter. My first-ever tip in all my years of volunteering at GKTW! I thanked him, but asked him to keep his quarter.
Pulling double shifts at Give Kids The World today, but you won’t hear anyone complaining. Our group was spread throughout the Village assisting families with character photos, carousel rides, and the best shift of all… the Castle of Miracles.
The Castle of Miracles is one of the most impactful venues at Give Kids The World. It’s attached to the carousel, and when you go inside you’ll find a ceiling adorned with thousands of twinkling golden stars. Each star for one of the wish children that has stayed at the Village, and volunteers help wish children receive their stars as well as returning alumni families find previous stars placed on the ceiling.
After spending the morning at the Village, we were right back at it volunteering in the evening for Mayor Clayton’s Hare-Raising Halloween Party. Kids dressed up to trick-or-treat, played games, and there were even special appearances by Star Wars characters and animals from SeaWorld. We got into the Halloween spirit with a group costume.
— Dad/Dave Parfitt (@AdventuresByDad) March 15, 2016
In the morning we had a team-building activity at Orlando Tree Trek – three hours of climbing, swinging, and zip-lining through the Kissimmee canopy. Quite the workout, but an amazing experience and incredible sense of accomplishment afterwards.
After a quick change, it was back to the Village to staff venues such as the La Ti Da Spa, Ice Cream Palace, and more. Wish families are starting to recognize us, and we’re developing a connection with them as well.
FREE DAY! I can’t bring a group of students to Orlando for Spring Break, and not visit at least one of the major theme parks. Wednesday was their day to play, and the majority spent the day at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. For half of the group, this was their first-ever visit to the Magic Kingdom. Of course, to make the most of their one day ticket, they arrived before the gates opened to see the morning Welcome Show, and left after the second Main Street Electrical Parade ended.
A couple of things stood about their visit, but perhaps nothing as much as the Wishes night time fireworks spectacular. Hearing the Blue Fairy reminding us to always believe in our wishes, and listening to repeated choruses of “make a wish… and all your wishes, will come true” was enough to bring many of my students to tears.
Happy St. Paddy’s Day! After spending a full day in the parks yesterday, the students were beat, and appreciated having a chance to sleep in and “chill.” They spent the morning watching Nicholas Sparks’ The Longest Ride (I’m not judging) followed by a soak in the pool.
At 6:00 pm, it’s back to GKTW for the weekly Winter Wonderland Christmas celebration. I heard Santa’s coming!
Our last “official” shift for Give Kids The World Alternative Break 2016 was a work/service project washing cars and golf carts for the Village, but first we had a special gift for our friends. Not only did the students donate their time over spring break to work in the Village, but before the trip they also worked to raise money and presented a check for $622 to Give Kids The World.
Back to work, and first in line to be washed was Mayor Clayton’s sweet ride.
Our group of 13 made quick work washing down all the carts and cars in the Village and finished by noon. Being Spring Break, and having the rest of the day in front of us, I took everyone to Cocoa Beach to tour Kennedy Space Center…
and enjoy a celebratory dinner at Pelican’s on the Cocoa Beach Pier.
After filling up on burgers, shrimp tacos, crab cakes, and more, everyone frolicked on the beach in the waves and watched the sunset.
Give Kids The World Alternative Break 2016 went by so quickly, it was already time to pack up, and check out of our vacation home. We swung by the Village to say our good-byes, and perhaps purchase one or two (or ten) items from the Give Kids The World gift shop. Quite a few tears were shed as we shared our final reflections on the week, and as we drove through the gate, it started to rain for the first time all week. Perhaps the Village was sad to see us go too?
— Dad/Dave Parfitt (@AdventuresByDad) March 19, 2016
It is my sincere hope that sharing our Give Kids The World alternative break experience may inspire others to learn more about the Village and get involved. We are so privileged to easily travel to Florida for our spring break trip, and look forward to sharing some happiness with a group of special families and friends.