2016 has let me experience the true feelings of love, hard work, loss, compassion, happiness, fear, anxiety, excitement, and the most important — Magic.
This December I got the privilege to volunteer at Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, FL. The reason I got to experience such a life changing trip is due to CMU’s awesome Alternative Breaks program. What I truly admire about this program is that students interested in volunteering during one of our school year breaks (weekends, winter, spring, or summer) sign up for a social justice issue they are interested in serving, instead of signing up for a place to attend. Therefore, I got to go on a week long service trip this winter break with 11 amazing women that were also passionate about uplifting families and children.
Volunteering at Give Kids the world for four days truly has made my believe in magic again. When people think of magic we often refer to Harry Potter and fairy tales, but the smiles on the children’s faces showed me the true meaning of magic. Give Kids the World Village is happiest place on earth – it’s a place where children with life threatening illnesses and their families get to experience a week long all paid vacation full of food, fun, and even tickets to all the Disney Parks.
Though my role during the week seem pretty minimal, I know it made a big difference since this village runs on volunteers. For this amazing place to operate it needs over 2,000 hours of volunteer service, and my group soon realized after arriving how important this service was to the children and families.
Our first day of service I got to be two roles within the village, “Lori’s Magical Flight Gate Keeper” and one of my favorites, a worker at the Ice Cream Palace. As the Gate Keeper, I learned how to operate a ride where the kids get to ride butterflies, and that is where I met one little girl I will never forget. The details of my experiences with the children are private for respect of the families, but this little one instantly showed me so much love and happiness. Her smile on the rides was truly contagious. Then that night myself and 3 other girls (Lauren, Liz, and Payton:)) worked at the Ice Cream Palace, where we absolutely had so much fun. Starting the night we didn’t know how much fun serving free ice cream to the kids and families would be, but after we made countless of banana splits, sundaes, and shakes we soon learned the true joys of scooping ice cream to all the excited kids. It was such a busy night, since many families were out at the Halloween party, which allowed us to interact with so many new smiling faces. Every family and children we interacted with during our week of service, and especially at the Ice Cream Palace, were so extremely nice and appreciative. Everyone and anyone that came in could order any crazy request of ice cream, and it was so fun to give a simple joy to the families. One little girl really touched my heart when she told us how volunteering with kids with special needs was a huge part of our life. She told us many stories that truly inspired us. Also one of my favorite moments of the night is when another little girl gave Liz a mask she made at the Halloween party, and then we preceded to make Liz wear it while scoping ice cream. The smile on the little girls face was so memorable.
Our second day of service was the one that impacted my heart the most. Not only was the day of service incredible, the group of strangers I came with from CMU became significantly closer by the second day. That day I worked in the Nancy’s Kitchen as a server in the morning, and at night I helped kids carry their trays while they looked all over the kitchen for yummy food to select. Working in the kitchen I met this family that I will never forget. The patience and love the father had for his daughter overwhelmed me with joy. The conversations I had throughout the week with this family is something I can’t explain. At these times it felt like nothing else mattered, because the conversations I was having seemed so magical and the most important thing happening in the room. It was awesome to listen to the girls stories about visiting the Disney Parks and what she wanted for Christmas. Just thinking about her and her family while typing this puts a smile on my face.
Also on our second day of service I learned about the most magical place within the village (and maybe on earth) – the Castle. The castle is where every wish child gets to create a star, and these stars are way more beautiful than the ones in the real sky. Each wish child gets to decorate their star, and the star fairy Stella will take them up at night and place them on the ceiling of the castle. Then families can return and locate their star made in the past. As I walked into the castle for the first time, I got to see the ceiling glisten with thousands of stars, which made my heart pretty heavy. Give Kids the World Village has been opened for 30 years, and the castle has over 140,000 stars placed on the ceiling by Stella. Though the reality of that is heartbreaking, it is also a happy realization because that’s over 140,000 families that were given magic during undesirable times in their lives. While I was in the castle, a girl was proud to show me around and show me all the magic placed around the castle. After playing for a while I asked if she made a star, and she looks at me with a glow in her face and says, “my sister is the special one, so she got to make a star.” The castle is
the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Up above was full of stars colored differently, some not as happy as others, but the castle shows no matter what you are not alone; the castle ceiling full of stars shows acceptance.
Our last two days of service I worked in the kitchen again both days. Though that doesn’t sound like the most glamorous job I really enjoyed it. Volunteering at Give Kids the World is more about the bigger picture, which is making every aspect of this vacation for these families stress free and full of fun. I actually really enjoyed carrying trays for kids and talking to them one on one! I found light in every single child I interacted with, and I wouldn’t trade it with anything. One little girl ran around the kitchen stamping kissy faces on our hands. So so so many smiles that I will never forget.
Volunteering at Give Kids the World is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It’s honestly so hard to describe the experience in words, but one thing I know is that it has touched my heart forever. While volunteering, I interacted with many children, and even though I knew the common factor of why the families were there, I never knew why the child was actually there. Looking at the children, I saw normal, happy children, and I think that speaks volumes. Some of these children were experiencing the worst, and most unpredictable situations, though they still continued to play, love, and laugh hard. A word I used a lot in this post was smile, because the amount of smiles I saw was unbelievable. I can’t imagine the fear and unknown the families we interacted with had, but one thing I know it was so inspiring to see their optimism. Seeing the happiness of the children showed me the true meaning of life, but in my eyes it was even more amazing to see how truly patient, caring, and supportive the parents and siblings were. The love that spread throughout the village was truly incredible to see and experience.
Give Kids the World Village motto is something I will forever live by after this amazing volunteer opportunity … “where happiness inspires hope”. This will forever remind me that no matter what happens in life, no matter the situations, no matter the heartache life brings you, remember whenever you give happiness hope will be created. I am easily fearful of the littlest things, but after this week at Give Kids the World, I will never take anything for granted again. I learned the true meaning of love, support, and happiness at the village. I can honestly say the children, families, volunteers, and workers at Give Kids the World Village have changed my life
Thank you Give Kids the World Village for reminding me how important happiness, love, and hope in life truly is — and more importantly, thank you for showing me the real meaning of magic.