As a blogger, I may be compensated in some way (either pay, product, or experience) for sharing the post below All opinions are my own. ~Heidi
I have always had a heart for sick children. I remember watching The Children’s Miracle Network Telethons as a kid and wishing I could do something to help. Then, as an older teen and young adult, I would sit and watch Marlo Thomas in the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital commercials and I would just cry and cry. I knew money could help, but it seemed like there needed to be a way to do more.
Several years ago, I learned more about Give Kids the World Village in central Florida. I felt a connection with this place immediately. In fact, last year I participated in their 5K fundraising walk, which raised a lot of money to help support this great place and its mission. I was honored to be a part, but I still wished to do more. But how? I mean, I live 18 hours away!
So, what exactly IS Give Kids the World?
Give Kids The World Village is a 79-acre, nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
The Village and its community partners provide children and their families accommodations in fully-furnished villas, transportation, tickets to theme parks, meals, daily entertainment and much more.
Each year 27,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Half of all children eligible for a wish through a partnering wish-granting organization choose to visit Central Florida and its collection of theme parks and other attractions.
The goal, quite simply, is to provide everything these deserving families need to make their trip the vacation of a lifetime. Since 1986, more than 150,000 children and families have had their dreams fulfilled in a whimsical Village unlike any other place on earth.
Recently, I went to Florida to visit my snowbirding parents, and . . .
I got to visit Give Kids the World!A #virtualtour of @GKTWVillage from a #wannabevolunteer. Love this place! #magical #enchanted #makeawish @HeidiSaysClick To Tweet
One of my parents’ neighbors is a long-time volunteer at GKTW and he graciously took us on a very thorough tour. I spent our visit wavering between amazement and delight, and I left there feeling even more convicted to do something. But, more on that later. Right now, I thought I’d share my tour experience with you . . .
Our first stop was to sign in at the Volunteer Center, then we were on our way.
We started in the Towne Hall, which is a fairly new addition to the resort. Towne Hall is a huge two-story building that looks like it stepped right out of all your favorite fairy tales rolled into one! It contains the Food Court, which contains lots of great dining options and fun dining rooms in which to eat (everything is scaled down to child size because the children truly are the center of this place!) Also in Towne Hall is The Hoppening Place where kids can meet and greet various Disney characters and participate in other fun events.
On our way to visit the pool (called Park of Dreams), I was enamored with Ole’ Elmer, a talking tree!
The pool area is spectacular! The pool itself is a wheelchair accessible pool with misting jets. The area also includes a water park and a large ship that doubles as a stage for nighttime shows.
Ole’ Elmer is attached to the building that houses the Enchanted Carousel. The carousel is great, but it’s what is inside this building that blew my mind! It’s called the Castle of Miracles, and you need to experience it for yourself because my pictures just don’t do it justice! Each child who comes to GKTW gets to create a star (they can put their name on it or anything that they want) – these stars are placed on the ceiling of this building and it is incredible to see how many stars have been placed since GKTW was started! There is also a place where kids can make their own special pillow as well as other enchanted things for kids to see and do. Seeing the Castle of Miracles really brought me to tears!
One of the things that I loved when I first learned about GKTW was the fact that kids have unlimited access to free ice cream, all day, every day! Now, THAT is my kind of magical place! The Ice Cream Palace is a dream come true! They have a wide variety of ice cream flavors, and kids (and their families) can also select all sorts of fun toppings. I really loved the one wall inside:
There was a lovely garden area that you could sit and enjoy for hours. Items in the garden are named in honor and memory of children who have visited GKTW and since passed away. So bittersweet.
We didn’t get to go inside Julie’s Safari Theater because it wasn’t open at the time we were visiting, but I’m told it’s just like any other movie theater, only with lots more places for wheelchairs.
Amberville is such a cool place! Just inside the doors there is a room FILLED with a toy train set-up. There are TONS of buttons that kids can push to move various parts of the train and village. We had so much fun exploring this area and noting all the little details. Also included in this section is a waterway with remote-control boats, and lots of arcade games, as well as Nintendo type games. Kids can just relax and have fun here. Kids can write Letters to God and insert them in the huge mailbox that’s inside Amberville also.
The Gallery of Hope wasn’t open while we were there, but it houses a mini museum that showcases the history of Give Kids the World.
There is a Chapel on the grounds that people can go to and pray. It has some beautiful stained glass windows!
There are 169 villa accomodations on property and each one has its own individual style. In other words, it’s not your usual “cookie cutter” resort. Each house is different and feels more like a real little town. The cottage is actually a duplex, with a 2-bedroom condo on either side. In addition to the bedrooms, each duplex contains a full kitchen and living room. The thing that really impressed me is hearing that the child gets the master bedroom in these homes – it’s all about the child and making him/her feel special and worry-free during their visit! If a larger family comes, then they accommodate by using the entire cottage!
I know there were more areas of the resort that we missed during our few hour tour, but I was just so impressed with what we did see. My mind can’t stop thinking about it and my heart wants to be there.
How can you help Give Kids the World?
It is the desire of my heart to either work or volunteer at Give Kids the World. Right now, the distance is keeping me from that dream, but I’d love to get a local group together to go and volunteer for a week sometime. Both my parents have signed up to serve as volunteers! There are so many volunteer opportunities that there is definitely something for everyone!
Of course, if you cannot volunteer for any reason, you are also more than welcome to give a donation.
In addition to the annual Gingerbread Fun Run (which I participated in), there are also lots of ideas for fundraising and creating your own fundraiser.
*I am not associated with Give Kids the World Village.*
I wrote this post because I’m so moved by the work they do and I want to share!