If you've been around for some time, you may well have heard of the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Or one of dozens of other wish-granting foundations out there, many of whom send children with life-threatening illnesses to Walt Disney World to fulfill their lifelong dreams. What you may not have realized is that all such agencies send almost all their children (and families) to Disney World with the help of one local charity: Give Kids The World (GKTW) Village.
Over 250+ national and international foundations funnel the wish requests through GKTW, which then arranges for free park tickets to Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando through a Compassion program, and then houses the children and their families at their own 70-acre resort called The Village.
I was invited to tour the Village recently. I wasn't sure what I would find, but rather suspected what I'd see would be small bungalows arranged tightly together to save space and money, and maybe a central community area. Perhaps something in the vein of Communist-style modularity and functionality. The reality couldn't have been further from the truth. What I discovered was true suburban-style villas, whimsical venues, dozens of activities, events and shows, and Disney-level theming.
Give Kids The World isn't just a stopover on the way to the theme parks. In many ways, it's a destination unto itself. The warmth, vibrancy, and fun of the entire enterprise first took me by surprise, then enveloped me in its glow, and finally captured my heart. It would be hard not to get caught up in this place.
The most immediately noticeable element of GKTW is the high-level theming of the community areas. One magical venue, Amberville Train Station, looks like an oversized toy store, with giant giraffes, toy soldiers, and the world's largest tinker toy structure bursting out of its ceiling. Inside are pool tables, video games, table games, a gigantic model train set, and access to the remote-controlled boats in the pond just outside. Surrounding the building is a kid-sized train that chugs around the area, and an interactive seven-hole miniature golf course called Marc's Dino-Putt.
Nearby is Julie's Safari Theater. You could think of this as a movie house, as I first did, but that would be a mistake. They certainly do show movies here, but the stage and theater have been configured to be able to do much more. There are professional-level in-theater effects here, like fog and lighting.
The Ice Cream Palace harkens back to the soda fountains of yore. Pay attention to the kid-sized tables and intricate theming later; for now, there is free ice cream and sodas to consume. All day long.
The Castle of Miracles is the home to many GKTW programs and activities. One stand out event is Christmas, which is celebrated each Thursday evening including Santa, a Florida snowfall, presents and much more. A few more highlights include a magic mirror, whimsical wishing well, an interactive play area, and dress up corner. Overhead, gold stars sparkle, each bearing the name of a Wish Child who has had their one wish fulfilled by visiting GKTW since the Castle's grand opening in 1994.
The Gingerbread House Restaurant is the dining hall, befitting the theme of eating. One room looks like a giant cupcake from the outside, and on the inside, the standard "popcorn" ceiling gives way to mini-spikes which look quite a bit like frosting. Factor in the peppermint candies that line the see-through tables all over, and you've got a convincing illusion for kids.
Horse and pony rides are available at Keaton's Korral, and Claytonburg Park of Dreams has both a wheelchair-accessible pool and an interactive fountain/water park area. A giant pond is home to a serene gazebo and fish are stocked for catch-and-release. A family really could fill a whole day just exploring this place, relaxing and living out dreams. At the end of the day, they could just tumble into their beds in their own villas.
And therein lies the problem facing GKTW today. There are 102 villas, which already represents enormous growth over recent years. But those 102 villas can barely handle the demand now. And demand, as you might imagine, is growing. Over 6,000 children and their families visited Give Kids The World Village in 2005, representing about half of the Wishes from the wish-granting institutions in the USA and from around the world. But demand is expected to essentially double in the coming years.
Give Kids The World needs to have over 200 villas total. While they have the land for it, they need to raise the funds to build the structures. Although each of the 2,400 sq. ft. buildings (two villas) would have a retail cost of $300,000, efficient project management as well as incredible in-kind support of materials and labor allow GKTW to build at 50 percent of retail. That means each building costs about $150,000 to build or about $75,000 per villa.
Here's my proposal: wouldn't it be something if the Disney online community got together and raised enough money to sponsor its own villa? If we accomplished this, there would forever be a villa at Give Kids The World Village, fulfilling dreams, that owes its existence to our efforts, the online fans. We'd be listed as the sponsor of a whole villa! Somehow, this all seems very fitting to me. We share a common bond in our love for Disney theme parks. These Wish Children and their families want to visit the Disney theme parks, and we can help them realize that dream.
We don't need to reach the goal of $75,000 in just one year. It might be more realistic to mount a drive for $25,000 this first year and try to spread this out over a few years.
Those who donate are also invited to tour Give Kids The World whenever they next visit the Orlando area; just contact John Frost ([email protected]) ahead of time to arrange a tour. You'll also have to arrange your own transportation to The Village.
To sweeten the pot a little bit, I'm sponsoring a contest. Those who contribute $25 or more will be automatically entered into a drawing, the winners of which will be announced at the end of our two-month donation drive. Here are some of the prizes:
If anyone is interested in donating additional prizes for this list, please email me at [email protected].
We can use the help of other Disney webmasters, authors, columnists, and bloggers. Let's make this a combined effort of the entire Disney Online Community. Please put this "Fundraising Widget" on your Disney Fan Community website or blog and help us spread the word. This Widget makes it easy for visitors to your site to contribute. The following link...
...will take you to a page where you can obtain the HTML code which will create the Widget shown below on your web page:
I really believe we can make this happen. It doesn't even take a big investment per person. Whether you can give $5, $10, $25, or $50 or more, I implore you to please give something. Individuals or companies that donate $500 or more will be considered "sponsors" and will receive special recognition in this column. Please note that donations to GKTW are tax-deductible.
Long time readers will notice that I have refrained all these years from explicitly asking for donations to MiceAge to pay for our server space and bandwidth. I'd like to use this opportunity to spend that political capital, and instead ask you to donate to this worthy cause instead.
Even if you're not normally the type of person to join in this kind of program and actually donate money, I entreat you to make this one the exception. Be a part of something. When I asked folks at Give Kids The World if their primary product is an "experience" before a child with a life-threatening illness passed away, they replied that they prefer to think of their product at GKTW as "hope." Some do, after all, make it. Don't rob these children of hope. Let's all be part of the solution. Let's bring hope to someone who could use it.
Please donate. Every little bit helps:
For those who prefer to send a check instead, you can send them to:
About Give Kids The World:
© 2007 Kevin Yee
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