Every November, I think back on two very special trips to Orlando, Florida. In November 1994, my mom, my sister, Hannah, and I flew down to Disney World for the first time. Make-A-Wish had granted Hannah a wish for a week's visit to the Disney parks. All of our expenses were paid--the limo to the airport, the flights, the passes to get into Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and MGM, and the hotel. But the hotel wasn't just any ordinary hotel, it was Give Kids the World, a non-profit "storybook" resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. This 79-acre village is a magical place, and I went back in November 2009 to volunteer for a week and see it again with adult eyes :)
My mom and her sister Sally had volunteered in previous years, but this was my first time volunteering, and we brought my cousin Dayna along too!
The gorgeous outdoor pool and splash pad weren't there in 1994, but Hannah and I would have loved them!
Thousands and thousands of stars line the ceiling inside the "Castle of Miracles". Each star has the name of a child who has stayed at Give Kids the World in its twenty-six-year history.
These are a couple of the cute villas that families stay in.
Dayna and I worked a couple of shifts at the "La Ti Da Royal Spa" where we had the privilege of painting little nails and applying temporary tattoos :)
"Amberville" has a model train, billiards, an arcade, and other activities.
Here's my mom driving the passenger train :)
There's a small movie theater for movie nights.
I LOVED working at the "Ice Cream Palace". Free ice cream is served here morning, noon, and night. It was a blast to serve the kids whatever flavors and toppings their little hearts desired!
I don't know if they still do this, but six years ago, they had a weekly Christmas parade (all year long), because who doesn't love getting into the Christmas spirit?
Posing in front of the spot of our 1994 family Christmas photo.
Mom, Hannah, me. We have the best home video from our trip to GKTW. I was seven and Hannah was ten, and the video shows us so in awe of this place (and Disney too)!
Another favorite job while volunteering was running the carousel. Seeing those kids with so much joy on their faces--- amazing!
Dayna and I at the airport on our way home.
It was such a memorable trip!
As I am writing this, I'm poking around on the Give Kids the World website, and they have some incredible new attractions like horseback riding, a fishing pond, a Candy Land playground, and this building:
The new Towne Hall is a 53,000 square-foot building with several restaurants and other gathering areas. It looks incredible!
We haven't been back to volunteer at GKTW since 2009 (Dayna and I started having babies), but my mom and I did become Make-A-Wish volunteers a few years ago, and we have been able to grant a couple of wishes to children in our area. I think Hannah would be proud of us taking these opportunities to give back. I have so much empathy and love for families who are experiencing similar circumstances of what we went through years ago. (For those who are new here, we lost Hannah to childhood cancer when she was 17. And goodness, do we ever miss her!)
If you're interested in volunteering at Give Kids the World for a week, click here to learn more. If you've ever been to a Perkins, they collect money for GKTW in the front of the restaurant. They have helped provide free meals for families staying at GKTW since 1989!
Linking up with Andrea today for a link up on mission trips and service projects.