Mary Presson Roberts Photography

Give Kids the World

“The modern world is filled with miraculous happenings. Unfortunately, today’s world is also a very busy place filled with many distractions. Most of us race through life so quickly that we fail to recognize the miracles that guide each and every life on this planet.”

-Henri Landwirth

The quote above begins the introduction of Gift of Life by Henri Landwirth with J.P. Hendricks.   Gift of Life is the book my pastor, Reverend Dr. Joanne Sizoo, lent me in preparation for our week volunteering at Give Kids the World Village, located in Kissimmee, Florida.

There are experiences in life that change you forever.  My week helping at Give Kids the World Village did just that.

Joanne organized a trip of fifteen members and friends of Grace Presbyterian Church of Fort Mill to volunteer for a week at Give Kids the World.

Prior to the experience, reading Gift of Life introduced me to an extraordinary man, Henri Landwirth, who lived from 1927-2018. He and his life are an incredible example of how one person can impact the world.

The book, Gift of Life, is divided into three main parts. In the first part, Henri describes his time during the Holocaust, imprisoned in labor and concentration camps. During that time, he lost his parents. He reunited with his sister after the war.

Following the war, Henri made his way to America. He persevered, learned English, and began working in the hotel industry.  Life and work led Henri to Florida. In part two of the book, Henri details how he befriended the Project Mercury astronauts while working in the hotel and restaurant industry there.

The third part of the book describes how Henri used his gifts, friendships, and background to start Give Kids the World Village after he heard about a child who was not able to receive her wish to meet Mickey Mouse before her passing because it took too long to arrange for this to happen.  Henri wanted to make sure this never happened to another child.

With the help of hundreds of businesses and thousands of volunteers, Henri founded Give Kids the World Village in 1986.  Give Kids the World Village is a resort where families of children with life-altering illnesses can experience cost-free vacations.  Families stay in colorful two- and three-bedroom villas.  The outsides of these villas were decorated with colorful lights during our time there.

The resort, located within a twenty-five-minute drive of Florida’s most well-known amusement parks, resembles a theme park.  Upon check-in, guests receive tickets for all family members to visit Walt Disney World, Universal Parks, and SeaWorld.

While not visiting the theme parks, there are so many activities for guests to choose from right on the property. Guests can visit Henri’s Starlite Scoops for ice cream throughout the day. Ice cream service begins before breakfast and lasts until after nine in the evening.  Pony rides are available twice a week at Keaton’s Korral.  There are also spa services for grown-ups as well as children. Adults visiting the village can take time on the aqua therapy beds for relaxation. Children can go to Twinkle Hope’s Rockin’ Spa for nail services, glitter tattoos, and hairstyles that include braids, colorful paint, and glitter.  Families can enjoy playing arcade games at Amberville and play a round at Marc’s Dino Putt. Additionally, there is a carousel and other amusement park rides that are operated by volunteers each day.

No details have been overlooked.  As I admired the murals on the wall in the arcade, I noticed that artists included pictures of children on skateboards alongside pictures of children rejoicing in wheelchairs.  The Lego room also had a full-sized character in a wheelchair.

Each evening at the village, there is a special event or party to attend. These events are absolutely incredible.  While there, I was able to work at the Halloween party and the Winter Wonderland party. At the Halloween party, families first chose from a variety of games to play and crafts to create.  All were welcome to play wrap the mummy with toilet paper.  This brought about such joy and laughter.  Trick or treating was the finale of the Halloween party and enjoyed by all.  After completing crafts and games at the Winter Wonderland party, all children were able to visit with Santa and receive a toy that was donated by Hasbro.

I found the most special place on the property to be the Castle of Miracles. Since 1995, each child with a life-altering illness visiting GKTW has created a special star to symbolize their visit and their inner light. These stars are housed in the castle and in the Star Tower. There are currently more than 150,000 stars.

Spending the week volunteering with fellow church members and friends of Grace Presbyterian Church at Give Kids the World is one of the most meaningful experiences I have ever had.  I am thankful for the chance to get to know members of my church on a deeper level as we experienced this hopeful place together.

The week allowed visiting families to have a chance to put some of their worries on hold while they enjoyed each other and the love they shared.

I got to know visiting families as I helped in the cafeteria, at special events, and at different entertainment venues.  It was extremely heartwarming seeing the families in different locations throughout the week and having the opportunity to connect with them during their stay.  I found in them a level of gratitude, hope, and love I have never encountered before.

While in the village, I had to put the enormity of my emotions regarding what each of these families was experiencing and the weight of their worries on hold to best serve them.  On my second day in the village, the music playing in the area was the song to which I danced with my son at his wedding. It didn’t escape my attention that many at Give Kids the World would never have that same opportunity.

I learned so much from the fantastic people and the incredible place. I will forever be thankful for the opportunity to serve alongside members of my church and for the lessons I learned while being there.

The things I learned or reinforced were:

 

Life is such an incredible gift.

 

Time is something that should never be wasted.

 

Love is the most important thing of all.

 

One person’s actions can do so much.

 

Although there truly aren’t adequate words or images to share that would fully paint a picture of this Give Kids the World experience, I hope you will look into this incredible organization and perhaps find your way to helping there or somewhere else where you can share your personal gifts.

For information regarding how you can help Give Kids the World Village, please click here.

 


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Mary Presson Roberts

I am a travel and fine art photographer living and working in the Carolinas. My camera has taken me to places I never would have experienced and to people I never would have met. Photography has truly changed my life! Using my blog, I hope to share the joys of both travel and photography.

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