Help a Child Smile
When our family was awarded a trip to Florida through Help a Child Smile we were thrilled. It was an exciting opportunity to spend some much-needed time together. We had no idea just how special this trip would be.
First, we want to express our sincere appreciation to Walter Gretzky and Zac Dalpe who both took time to attend a HACS fund raising event at which we were awarded the trip. Spending time with each of these individuals was a treat and a memory we cherish. Our thanks to all who worked so hard to organize the event.
This brings us to the trip – truly one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. The organization and planning of such a trip can be a daunting task; however HACS has it down pat. When I say we were taken care of from the time we left home to the time we returned I am not exaggerating. A stretch limousine picked us up from home and drove us to the Buffalo airport where we caught our flight to Florida. Embarking from the plane we were greeted by a GKTW volunteer holding a placard with Devon’s name. She led us to baggage claim then to the car rental facility. Once we were ready to head out she headed back into the airport to greet another family.
Our arrival at the Give Kids the World facility was like stepping into a dream world. This is a place where their focus is on ensuring that visitors are happy at all times. Mainly run by volunteers, it is truly an inspiration to see what can be done when people work together. This place has to be seen to be believed. We were directed to the House of Hearts where a volunteer met with us and informed us of things we would need to know. We were then escorted to our villa – a place of peace and solitude in a village like no other. Even if we never left the grounds it would have been a fun-filled week as there were special events planned throughout the week. Meals were provided at the Gingerbread House, located across from the Castle complete with a carousel beside it. If ever there was a dream place for kids (and adults) this is it. We wanted to move in forever! Sounds like we were set, right? But there was more!
The week was busy. We fit in a lot with visits to The Kennedy Space Centre, Sea World, Universal Studios and all four Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and MGM Studios). We also took an air boat ride which was quite fun. Having been given a special identifying badge and pass we were able to avoid long lineups which enabled us to accomplish all we did. Sounds exhausting; however we paced ourselves making it home in time for dinner all but one evening where we stayed to enjoy a special light show at MGM. It was great to get back to our quiet villa after dinner and a visit to the onsite ice cream parlour. Often just in time to be greeted with the Cookie Cart that toured the village streets each evening offering freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and lemonade. Starting to see why we wanted to stay forever?
Though we have many stories, I have chosen one special moment to share. We were on the streets of MGM awaiting the arrival of the Superheroes. They rode up on quads (Storm, Rogue, Spiderman, Wolverine, Captain America and Cyclops) and took their respective places for photo ops. Devon got in line to get a picture with Storm and Rogue. Upon seeing the GKTW badge, Rogue came over to Ed and I asking if we would like a photo with all of the Superheroes. Of course we thought this would be great. We were escorted to a private area where we waited for about 10 minutes for the heroes to finish their photo commitments. They then arrived on their quads and we were able to get some awesome shots with them. A fitting picture as I feel that any child having dealt with a serious illness is truly a super hero.
I could continue on. It is difficult to put into words just how special this experience was to each of us. It was great to see Devon feeling stronger and our daughter, Erica overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of so many individuals. For us, the trip came at a time when we all needed something to help us reconnect and I can honestly say that it happened. It opened our eyes, inspired us and helped make us feel whole again. Thank you to all the HACS volunteers and donors who made this happen.
The O’Shea Family