Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Give Kids the World

New York City is home and will always be my favorite place on earth, but let me tell you about another place that is incredibly special to me...

Give Kids the World is a nonprofit resort in Florida that exists to fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. It is made of magic, pixie dust, and wishes. And ice cream!

You've probably heard of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and you might not be surprised to know that almost half of the children who are granted MAW trips have a wish to visit Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, or something in the Orlando area. When children are granted trips to Disney through MAW (or other similar organizations), Give Kids the World makes it happen.

But to classify Give Kids the World as just a "resort" is a gross understatement. GKTW provides the most magical, the most fantastic experience for children and their families, giving them a week full of joy, laughter, pirates, princesses, magic, and memories. And ice cream!

It would take a dozen posts to even begin to explain all of the amazing components of GKTW, so I'll try to cover the highlights:

Families who come to the Village don't stay in a hotel, they stay in an adorable, fully-equipped villa:
Photo credit: Give Kids the World

They can ride on this awesome carousel as many times as they want:
Photo credit: Give Kids the World

Everyone can explore Amberville, the world's largest Tinker Toy structure: take a train ride, play video games, shoot pool...

...or play miniature golf on an incredible dino-themed interactive course!
Is that not the cutest freaking dino you've ever seen???

How about a life-sized Candyland game?
Photo credit: Give Kids the World

And then there's the ice cream. Friendly's supplies all of the treats for this amazing Ice Cream Palace, which opens at 7am every day. Ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? No problem!

And the list goes on and on: horseback riding, a pirate-themed swimming pool, a movie theater, visits by Mickey Mouse and all of his friends, a spa for princess makeovers. Absolutely EVERYTHING, including theme park tickets, meals, and transportation, is included for the special families who stay at GKTW. And those are just the daytime activities. Every night there is a different special event -- a Pirate and Princess Party, Mayor Clayton's Birthday Party (he's a bunny), Village Idol. And once a week, every week: Christmas! All kinds of winter activities, including cookie decorating, sleigh rides, and snow. Santa stops by and every child gets a present (and believe me, Santa's workshop is LOADED with great toys).

There are so many things that are special about Give Kids the World, but the thing that has always blown me away is this: Give Kids the World is almost entirely run by volunteers. There are over 1,500 volunteer shifts each week, doing everything from running activities, to checking guests in, to serving meals. Volunteers come from all over -- community members, groups of college students, corporate teams. And even visiting tourists like me!

I first heard about Give Kids the World about a year ago and I think it is truly the Happiest Place on Earth (if Walt was still here, he would agree). Last year I took a trip to Florida just to volunteer there for a few days and it was such an incredible experience. The families were so lovely, so gracious, so appreciative of any small thing I did. It was both humbling and inspiring, and I left a different person.

I'm traveling to Orlando soon for a vacation with my family, and we'll be spending two days volunteering at the GKTW Village. I'm so excited to share this amazing place with my mom and brother. We have so many happy Disney memories, and we're incredibly lucky to be able to help others enjoy their own special trip.

I can't wait to be back at the Village, but I feel a bit of sadness as well because I know I won't want to leave. For some reason, I have this feeling like I am meant to be there. I don't know how we got separated, but I'm in NYC and my heart is in Give Kids the World.

Well, I am prone to losing things....

PS -- If you're like me, you might be wondering how this special place came to be. You should read the biography of its founder, Henri Landwirth -- he has an incredible story and a truly generous spirit.

PPS -- I am participating in a great fundraiser called the Power of 10, which aims to raise one million dollars to help GKTW continue fulfilling its mission. I've already found 10 friends to donate, but I have always been a bit of an overachiever... ;)


  1. Wow! Amazing! I knew some about Make a Wish and GKTW but not ALL that! I am truly blown away. This sounds like something I would love to get involved in when we move back to the States. I mean, who would want to hang out in a real life Candy Land. My favorite childhood board game!

  2. Wow down to the last week of waiting and we will be at GKTW in 7 days.....What an amazing trip..

  3. K -- It really is the most amazing place! We were there yesterday and this morning and we couldn't stop smiling. The kids were adorable and SO happy to be there. I watched them all dance around like they didn't have a care in the world, which is exactly how kids should feel.

    Sunday night is the big Candyland game -- I think you would LOVE hopping across the "board" with the little ones! You should definitely check it out :)