Dawn of a new week at one of my favorite places, Give Kids The World Village, where I volunteered with 13 college students from upstate New York with children with life-threatening illnesses. So often travel is about myself or my family – where we’re going, what we’re doing, what we’re seeing, who we’re meeting. However, this week was all about giving back. We helped other families build vacation memories to celebrate the adversities they’ve overcome and give them strength for the challenges they’ve yet to face. Continue reading for thoughts and photos over the course of our Give Kids The World Alternative Break 2018 trip.
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, meet an astronaut or anything possibly related to Florida. Founded in 1986 by World War II Holocaust survivor Henri Landwirth, GKTW allows families a respite for one week on a restorative vacation. Watch the video below to hear the impact of GKTW from one of these families.
During Give Kids The World Alternative Break 2018 we served food, played games, trick-or-treated with the kids, staffed the carousel, pool and train, held a Christmas parade, and much, much more. Read on…
At 6:30 am we piled into vans for our early morning airport run for our Allegiant flight from Corning, NY to Orlando, FL.
Once we arrived, it was straight to Give Kids The World for our first volunteer shifts throughout the Village. Students gleefully delivered pizza, gave carousel rides, attended to the castle, and met families for the first time. My job? I drove the cookie cart around the 80-acre property offering cookies to anyone interested. Best part of the night? Children yelling, “thank you cookie man” as they headed into their villa for bed.
After our long day of travel and work in the Village, we were right back at it Sunday morning with an especially early 7:30 am report time due to daylight savings time. Think of it, here’s a group of college students getting up earlier on their spring break, than they would normally awaken during the school year.
Once again, I rode around the Village on a train to take families to breakfast. Imagine my surprise when families stepped onto the shuttle and exclaimed, “look! It’s the cookie man!” That small act of giving a family a cookie made such an impact on their day.
After a morning where we served ice cream (yes, ice cream for breakfast), more carousel rides, and helped families place stars in the castle, it was back to our vacation rental house for a nap and swim. We capped the day off with dinner at one of our favorite places in the area, Sweet Tomatoes, followed by an impromptu round of mini-golf.
We hit the ground running this year, up at 6:00am Saturday to catch our flight to Florida, straight to the Village for our first shifts, and up early again Sunday morning – the students earned the right to sleep in and slow things down a little. Then, Universal Orlando Resort hosted our group at their brand-new Volcano Bay water park.
It was cool (for Florida), cloudy, and a little rainy when we arrived, which meant we had the entire park essentially to ourselves. The air might have been cool, but the water was so warm. We had a great afternoon slipping, sliding, floating, and bonding with each other. It’s hard to believe this group of students really didn’t know each other before they arrived on the trip.
After we dried off, it was back to the Village for the weekly Halloween party where we distributed candy to trick-or-treating wish families, scooped ice cream, and the cookie man delivered even more cookies.
Back at Give Kids The World at the crack of dawn for double shifts in the Village. First up, we served breakfast to wish families eager to get going to the theme parks. I had the best job – making waffles for 850 people.
In the evening we were back to play games, give manicures, and offer carousel rides.
We also helped to host a special surprise birthday party for Give Kids The World’s mascot – Mayor Clayton (an 8 foot tall bunny).
It was our one, full day off from Give Kids The World Village, but yet my students still woke up for 8:00 am classes during spring break. Except these classes were held at a very, special, school…
Universal Orlando Resort hosted our group yet again so they could check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at both of their theme parks – as well as all the other rides and attractions. Everyone LOVED their visit to Hogwarts Castle, the ride on the Hogwarts Express, and facing the dragon for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. However, the best part of our day at Universal Orlando came when we received an unexpected tweet from the park…
Where are you right now? We want to come bring you a surprise. #UOParkPerks
— Universal Orlando Resort (@UniversalORL) March 14, 2018
We exchanged some tweets, and when we finally met up Universal invited us to ride on one of the floats in that night’s Mardi Gras parade. Wow! What a surprise, and a fantastic, fun experience tossing beads to the crowd.
@UniversalOrlando surprised us with an invite to ride a #MardiGras2018 float during a break from our volunteering at @GKTWVillage. It was so much fun throwing beads to the crowd, and I even saw one of the Wish Families we served in the Village. Thank you for such a great #UniversalMoment we’ll remember for a long, long time • • • • • • • #ReadyForUniversal #UniversalMardiGras #UniversalMoments #GKTW #GKTWVillage #GKTWU #AlternativeBreak #SpringBreak #FamilyTravel #Travel #travelwithkids #TravelBlogger @ExperienceKissimmee #MyKissimmee @VisitFlorida #VisitFlorida #LoveFL
It’s amazing how fast the week goes, but before we ended our work at Give Kids The World, I wanted to get the group together and thank them for volunteering in the Village. We ended up at Splitsville Luxury Lanes at Disney Springs for some food, fun, laughs, and bowling, and it was the perfect choice for the group.
The students did a little souvenir shopping in Disney Springs, and then we gathered at Splitsville for bowling and eating. I had no idea what we were getting into with the portion sizes – absolutely huge!!! And, oh, so good. After consuming Mount Nacho, we waddled out of the lanes and on to Give Kids The World for Winter Wonderland.
Every Thursday at Give Kids The World is Winter Wonderland. Santa visits every week and distributes gifts to all the children. The evening is capped by the Winter Wonderland parade, and my Alternative Break students threw themselves into their roles. There were snow princesses, elves, ballerinas, fairies, and even a Christmas tree with hopping presents marching down the street. One wish child was even inspired to tuck his arms in his sleeves, pull his shirt over his knees, and bend down so he could be just like one of the presents.
Our last full day in Florida, and we were determined to make the most of it. We rode the Monorail through Epcot, stopped at the Polynesian Village Resort for Dole Whips, and soaked up the sun on the lawn.
Before our final volunteer shift, we met up with Give Kids The World communications representative (and fellow Geneseo grad) Emily Wagner (in yellow on left) for a photo with the group from her school, and then it was off for one last evening in the Village.
Once again we served and delivered food, staffed the castle and carousel, and gave makeovers in Twinkle Hope’s Rockin Spa. When, to our surprise, Twinkle Hope herself made a rare appearance (the My Little Pony can be a bit of a diva at times).
It turns out a Wish family visiting the spa had a particularly long and arduous journey to get to Give Kids The World, so Twinkle Hope came out just to welcome the family to the start of their vacation. Oh, and if you think Twinkle Hope’s Rockin Spa is just for girls… my students have documented first hand that is not the case.
Alas, our week had come to an end. Before we headed back to snowy western New York, we stopped by the Village to reflect on our favorite moments and say our good-byes.
— Dad/Dave Parfitt (@AdventuresByDad) March 17, 2018
A few tears were shed, but it’s wonderful knowing that Give Kids The World is always there for those that need it – Cookie Man included.
It is my sincere hope that sharing our experiences during Give Kids The World alternative break 2018 inspire others to learn more about the Village and get involved. It’s a great organization.