Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Giving Kids the World

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During WWII, Henri, a small child and his family were imprisoned in concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Only he and his sister survived. He spent years starved and maltreated. He finally escaped and immigrated to New York after the war ,where he began working in hotels. He ended up managing the Starlite Hotel, becoming friends with Apollo astronauts and through a series of lucky encounters, made a comfortable life and embodied the spirit of the American Dream. Henri always helped less fortunate souls, having been helped numerous times himself during dire circumstances.

In the 80's. Henri Landwirth was woring in a hotel in Florida when he heard the tragic story of a little girl named Amy who died while waiting for a room to open up for her Make A Wish trip to Disney World. He gathered donations from his friends and partners and vowed not to let this happen again. Give Kids the World was born.

Families who stay at Give Kids the World are fed generously because Henri remembered the horrors of being starved. Travel arrangements are made, all creature comforts are provided so the family can focus on having fun. Tickets to local theme parks are generously donated. On site there are multiple options for food an entertainment. Everything is kid sized and decorated for pint sized amusement. A huge carousel sits under a mushroom cap, attached to a Castle of Miracles. Inside the castle, there is a salon for girls to get manicures and make overs, boys can get tattoos or face painting. A magical well grants wishes and each wish child who passes through writes their name on a star that will shimmer on the ceiling for all future visitors.

Each night a different theme is celebrated with the village mascots, the Mayor and Miss Mary. There is a birthday bash, Christmas party, Pirates and Princesses night, Parent's night out and Village Idol. There is an ice cream parlor open all day. There is a theatre, complete with popcorn, ICEEs and treats. The Amberville Train station has not only a kiddie train, but a miniature electric train city with endless buttons to push. There are rides, arcade games, pool, and bumper boats. There is a mini golf course, a pool, and a stable with horses. Henri's only wish is that families have the time of their life and no strings attached. A major corporation offered a million dollar donation but wanted a plaque in each guest villa. Henri said no. No strings attached. He didn't want recognition or publicity. The Village is staffed, cleaned, maintained by volunteers.

I had not ever heard of Henri Landwirth or Give Kids the World, and that was purposeful. Major corporations and small contributors do so anonymously. That is the spirit of giving. Families like ours are not asked to repay anything. Not that we could, the gift was priceless. Watching Lily write her name on the sparkly little star and putting it in a special box for the Star Fairy who hangs it on the ceiling of the castle while we slept. Knowing that there were so many before her, who wrote their names on their stars that twinkled above our heads. Knowing that many of them lost their battles, yet their memory shines on. They all leave their mark.

Like Disney, Give Kids the World is a well oiled machine. Run by the dedication of good people who spend their time helping others. Phil and I agreed that when we are able, someday we'll go back and volunteer. On another note, every year I see the thermostat thingy ma doodle at the gate to base with the words "Combined Federal Campaign" on it. Never really gave it much thought as I was trying to get through to the commissary with screaming toddlers. I asked Phil what it was about and he told me it was a charitable donation program. Since we donate to other causes, we usually don't contribute. I figured it had to do with base programs and such and wasn't really sure where the money went, but it is so much more. I know that the next time the sign is up, we will be helping out because the Combine federal campaign sponsored our Make A Wish trip. So if there are those out there like us, who weren't sure where the money goes and hesitated to donate...don't. It truly does make a difference. If there are those out there who have contributed, thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. The village sure has changed a lot since I was there. The only thing I recognized is the Gingerbread House!


Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)