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Travel gives lots of opportunities to be thankful. We can be thankful for the health to travel, the resources and knowledge to go beyond our neighborhoods and so much more. But not everyone is that lucky. Some people — some kids — in fact, don’t necessarily have the resources, health or time to travel. They are battling serious illness in the literal fight for their lives.
Don’t worry. This isn’t an (overly) sad story; it is one of hope. It is a story of smiles, of memories and of joy. To give kids who are battling serious illness something to smile about in the midst of their battles, a place called Give Kids the World (GKTW) exists. Since 1986, GKTW has served more than 165,000 children and families. In as little as 24 hours, GKTW (and its partners) can provide a weeklong dream trip of a lifetime for families with seriously ill children.
TPG partnered with Give Kids the World Village earlier this fall as we attempted to ride every single ride at Disney World in just one day. We came up only seven rides short, but completed 41 rides across all four Disney World parks. Some very generous TPG readers donated money to GKTW for each ride we completed. To date we have raised just over $17,000. But it is Thanksgiving, and we want to do better than that. It cost, on average, $6,000 to cover a family’s weeklong wish trip to Give Kids The World. This means we are less than $1,000 away from fully covering this experience for a third family. We really want to close that gap with your help.
Instead of just asking you to blindly support a place you have never seen, I stopped by for a tour while taking my own girls to a recent holiday trip to Disney World. Now let me share with you what it is really like inside Give Kids the World Village.
Ice Cream for Breakfast (and Lunch and Dinner)
To understand Give Kids the World is to know that the Ice Cream Palace opens every day at 7:30am sharp. Children and their families can pile into the Candyland-decorated palace of ice cream for breakfast (and lunch and dinner). As you walk, in you are flanked by larger-than-life bananas and ice cream cones (designed by the founder’s grandson), because — why not?!
The Village is about creating childhood magic, and ice cream for breakfast is magic. Like all of the food and activities at Give Kids the World, this ice cream is 100% free to guests, and the Ice Cream Palace is one of the most popular spots for guests and volunteers alike.
84 Acres, Built Just for Kids
The fun doesn’t stop with a banana split for breakfast (hold the banana). The entire 84-acre resort is built for kids. Specifically, it is built for kids who may bring with them some special medical needs and challenges. The tables and chairs are kid-sized, they have wheelchairs available for the pool and water park and there are on-site wheelchair-accessible rides — no FastPass required.
The Village is designed so that you can drive right up to your private villa to make loading and unloading simpler. There are popular Disney characters who come to the resort weekly to visit the kids in a controlled, air-conditioned and calmer environment (though families at the Village get tickets to Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld, too). At dinner, the GKTW volunteers won’t even let you carry your own tray — they’ve got that part covered, too. Your only ‘job’ here is to have fun and make memories.
That’s not enough for a week of fun? Families can also try out the Rockin Spa (think Disney’s Bippity Boppity Boutique with “tattoo” options, too), arcade games, a bowling lane, train rides, a movie theater and Marc’s Dino-Putt golf course — remember Marc, we’ll get back to him in a minute.
You’ll Never Forget, and Never Be Forgotten
Once you visit GKTW Village, you are forever a part of its family. Wish families can come back for day visits, and the weeklong experience — from what I gather by talking to those who have lived it — is something you never, ever forget. Just like families won’t forget their week at GKTW, GKTW doesn’t forget its families. In fact, many of the attractions, such as Amberville, are named for children who have come before.
To take this a bit deeper, there was an 11-year-old boy named Marc who came to GKTW on a “wish trip” in 1999. He actually had two wishes: one was to be a dinosaur and the second was to never be forgotten. At the time, doctors estimated he only had three more months on this earth, but in part due to being so inspired by his time at GKTW, he went on to make memories for three more years. Marc talked to children in hospitals and acted as a GKTW spokesperson along the way. In 2003, after he was no longer with us, a seven-hole putt-putt dinosaur-themed golf course at GKTW was built in his honor.
Since then, children have continued to make their own memories on the pretty incredible putt-putt course while remembering Marc, thus fulfilling his wish, and theirs, all at the same time.
A Year of Memories Into One Week
Speaking of memories — GKTW has a goal of cramming a year’s worth of memories into one week. Kids here face a variety of medical challenges, so it is common that they might have out on missed holidays, trick-or-treating, birthday parties and more while in the hospital, undergoing treatments or simply not feeling great. Each night at GKTW, a different themed party tries to makes up for all that these kids might have missed out on.
In one week at GKTW, you will spend the evenings celebrating birthdays, getting Christmas presents, trick-or-treating, dressing like pirates and princesses and celebrating almost every occasion imaginable.
Wish Upon Your Star
Every inch of GKTW is special, but there’s one place that is next-level sacred: the Castle of Miracles. The outside of the building looks like a theme park attraction, but the inside contains something much more valuable — hope.
Every single “wish kid” who stays at the Village is given a gold star to personalize and place on the ceiling of the Castle of Miracles and Star Tower.
That star’s shining spot on the ceiling is permanent. There are currently more than 160,000 stars — each one representing a child’s time at the Village.
These stars hold with them wishes, hope, light and so much more. As the tower fills, they create another one. The Village will have space for stars, wishes and memories for as long as there is a need.
I cannot think or write about this part of the Village without my eyes welling with tears. They aren’t just sad tears, although that is part of it, but it is also simply an overwhelmingly beautiful and meaningful space. Families can come back here and visit their star with the help of a “Star Fairy.”
You Can Help Make Wishes Come True
Seeing pictures and reading words isn’t the same as going to Give Kids the World village yourself, so consider volunteering in person on your next trip to the Orlando area (kids 12 and up can help, too). But for now, I’d love your help in closing out our goal of raising less than $1,000 in additional funds to send a third family on a wish trip of their own. $5, $20, $100 or whatever you can afford will help us close that gap. Let’s help one more star reach the ceiling in the Castle of Miracles. This Thanksgiving, I am truly grateful for any support in making this happen.
“For the light of who you are,
Touches dreamers, near and far.
That’s when a wish
(That’s when a wish, that’s when a wish)
Becomes a star.”
And because this is The Points Guy, here are the best credit cards to use when making a charitable donation.
All images by author
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