There are so many different organizations out there that do so much good for others. My heart was touched so deeply with stories of loss and survival while learning about Give Kids the World in Kissimmee, Florida that I decided that it’s a place I want to spend more time giving and learning more about the families that visit.
Give Kids The World, a nonprofit organization that provides children with life-threatening illnesses and their families weeklong, fantasy vacations, will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, marking three decades of providing the happiness that inspires hope.
Since 1986, the organization has hosted more than 143,000 children and their families. Give Kids The World partners with more than 240 wish-granting organizations from around the world to bring these families to Central Florida to experience the world’s most beloved theme parks. There is no cost for visiting families.
While listening to the stories, I think the one line that stuck to me most was from a mom when she said,”You get to come here and you get to exhale.” It makes me a little emotional. I am blessed with two healthy children. I can’t imagine the stress these families have upon them when facing life threatening illness in their child. To hear a mother say, “You get to come here and you get to exhale.”, to me, that is incredible. What a gift for not only the special child, but for the whole family.
30 Years of Giving Kids the World
The inspiration for Give Kids The World was a wish that went unfulfilled.
Thirty years ago, a 6-year-old girl named Amy wanted to visit Walt Disney World. But despite efforts to make that dream come true, Amy, who had leukemia, passed away before all of the pieces could come together. An Orlando hotelier and Holocaust survivor named Henri Landwirth was so moved by her story he pledged that no child’s wish would ever again come too late.
With the help of his friends and colleagues in the hospitality industry, his new venture could make a wish come true in as little as 24 hours.
Give Kids The World started in 1986 as a few rooms spread out between several local hotels. Three years later, the whimsical Give Kids The World Village resort opened in Kissimmee, and has grown to encompass 79 acres with 144 two-bedroom villas.
The one-of-a-kind Village looks as if it leapt off the pages of a child’s storybook. It features the Castle of Miracles, where golden stars personalized with each wish child’s name twinkle on the ceiling. There’s a magical carousel, a child-size train, a dinosaur-themed mini golf course, two pools and a spectacular splash pad. Halloween and Christmas are celebrated every week, as is the birthday of Mayor Clayton, a six-foot rabbit who serves as honorary mayor of the Village. All the amenities are designed to help the children and their families forget – if only for a week – the challenges that living with a life-threatening illness present.
Today, the mission of the Village is fulfilled with the help of dozens of corporate partners and countless donors, including Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, as well as Kennedy Space Center, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, and Gatorland, all of which provide admission tickets. Visiting families enjoy complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner provided by Perkins Restaurants & Bakery, Boston Market and Papa John’s Pizza. Additional support comes from longtime partners such as Mears Transportation, InterContinental Hotels Group Owners Association and Orange Lake Resorts, Home to Holiday Inn Club Vacations.
“Over the last 30 years, we’ve welcomed thousands of children and their families into our Village home and into our hearts. Each one of them has made an indelible mark on our lives,” said Pamela Landwirth, President and CEO of Give Kids The World Village.
“As we look back through the years, we are so thankful for the incredible generosity of our corporate donors, our partners, and everyone who has helped support our mission,” she said. “They have shared their time, talents, and resources to ensure that our families leave the Village with memories they will cherish for a lifetime.”
In 2015, the Village welcomed more than 7,700 families, a number expected to grow in 2016. To accommodate the continuing growth, additional villas are under construction. The first phase of Banyan Park, which includes an additional 24 villas, is scheduled to open this fall.
While attending the 30th Anniversary Event, I was touched by a story shared by Jelly the clown. She and her husband Peanut Butter are volunteers from North Carolina. Jelly shared with me that she and her husband are “Wishmakers” with the Make a Wish Foundation, which works very closely with Give Kids the World. They came down to Kissimmee to spend a week helping out and vowed to be back once Peanut Butter retired from his job. He retired on December 31st, 2015 and that night they were on their way down. This happened to be the second week they have volunteered this year, staying locally at a campground and giving all their time to putting smiles on the faces of all the guests staying at the village.
At the party Jelly was painting faces, and my daughter Madi sat down to have hers painted as Jelly and I chatted. She said that Give Kids the World is just special. Seeing not only the children with life threatening illnesses smiling and just enjoying being a kid, but their families, with that look of relief. Even if it’s a short-lived break, it felt great to have contributed in some small way to make a big difference in others lives.
We are and you may want to as well. If you are looking for a place to give back while on vacation, or if you are local and want to connect, visit Give Kids the World volunteer page.
Volunteering at Give Kids The World Village inspires hope, creates priceless memories, and helps kids with life-threatening illnesses and their families celebrate life. It means being a part of an organization that is truly unique. And it means giving your best and feeling your best.
- Complete a volunteer application and waiver
- Undergo online check of the Department of Justice Sex Offender Registry
- Parental Agreement: Potential volunteers aged 12-17* must have their parent/guardian complete and submit this form either at the Village or via fax (888-577-9406)
- Proof of valid State Issued Photo ID
- Volunteer Orientation: volunteers that live within 90 miles of the Village must attend an orientation session. If you live outside of the 90 mile radius you will receive an orientation upon checking in the first day of your volunteer experience.
Here’s a look at what celebrating 30 years Give Kids the World style. Congratulations to them for doing so much good and here’s to celebrating to another 30!