Sunday, June 12, 2011

Volunteering at the Village, part I

By far, my favorite part of last week's Orlando trip was volunteering at Give Kids the World. If you missed it the first time, make sure to check out my post on this amazing place.

The process of volunteering at Give Kids the World is pretty straightforward. Since I had volunteered there previously, all I had to do was let them know when I was available and I could be put on the schedule. My mom and brother were new Angels (GKTW code for volunteers), so they had to fill out the online application and go through a quick background check. Very easy!

Once everyone was approved, we needed to receive our assignments. There was a little confusion here as my mom and brother were both in contact with Volunteer Services separately, and then I jumped into the mix...but the team at GKTW are amazing, and after a quick phone call we were all set. Because we were renting a car for just the first half of our trip, we requested back-to-back shifts so we could get in a few days of work. We also asked to be able to help out with the Thursday night Christmas celebration (a weekly event at the Village) -- and Volunteer Services was able to accommodate both requests!

We grabbed our rental car (conveniently picked up at the WDW Dolphin Hotel right on property) and hit the road -- Give Kids the World is located in Kissimmee, FL, just about 15 minutes away from Disney. We took the scenic route down U.S. 192. Have you ever driven down this road?

The aptly named Orange World
Photo credit: Adventures in Walt Disney World
When I was a kid we stayed at a hotel on 192 when we visited Disney and we had LOTS of fun adventures down this stretch of highway. It is tourist paradise: a mix of hotels (big chains and sketchy motels), restaurants, t-shirt shops, wacky tourist traps (Shell World comes to mind, as well as the giant building shaped like an orange), and other visual delights. It kind of feels like a beach town without the beach, and for us it was a bit of a trip down memory lane.

We arrived at the Village at 3pm. I wish I could explain the feeling I get when I am at this amazing place, but needless to say I was thrilled to pull in and see some familiar faces (hi, Mayor Clayton!). We parked, checked in at Volunteer Services, and got ready for our first assignment: decorating for Christmas!

It didn't quite feel like Christmas as we stood in the blazing Florida sun, but we got right to work helping GKTW staff pull full-size Christmas trees, huge Santa statues, foam snowflakes, and other goodies out of a storage shed and carry them all over property. Soon there were decorations everywhere, and I was ready to get into a festive mood (the Christmas music playing all over the Village definitely helped!). I probably wasn't dressed correctly for this kind of work (what else is new), and it wasn't long before we started feeling a little overheated...thankfully my brother did a lot of the heavy lifting while my mom and I took plenty of water breaks ;). Regardless, we tried to get the work done as quickly as possible with smiles on our faces because we really wanted to give the kids a great party.

We took a short break and then at 6pm we were back in action -- it was almost time for Christmas to start! This time we were separated -- my mom was helping our with the Storytime Elves (a little area where kids can listen to stories and pick out books to add to their own library), my brother was working the Christmas parade, and I was in Winter Wonderland. My specific job: manning the cotton candy machine. Whoa!

Harder than it looks!
What's great about Give Kids the World is that they have no hesitation in putting volunteers in really significant roles, even if they have had no experience with that particular task. Because GKTW relies on volunteers to fill so many shifts, they have pretty efficient training processes. Last time I volunteered, I was stationed in Amberville and I was taught how to drive a miniature train (including what to do if it gets derailed), man the miniature golf course, and set-up all of the video game systems -- just for my one 3-hour shift!

All aboard -- Conductor Peacock at your service!
The Christmas party was a HUGE success -- so much fun, and the kids and families had a great time. They got to make snowflakes, decorate cookies, play games, take horse-drawn carriage rides, snack on cotton candy and sno-cones, and visit with Santa Claus (with presents for all)! And then in midst of all the fun, a huge Christmas parade marches through the plaza -- characters in costume, elves, stilt walkers, and snow falling from the sky! The parade dissolves into a dance party that give the kids a chance to boogie with all of the characters. It was a really joyous and festive atmosphere, and I think the kids had the time of their lives.

A peek at the toys that kids can pick from Santa's workshop
I found out that cotton candy making is probably not my calling -- some of my batches looked a little wonky, but my young audience was very forgiving (it all tastes the same going down!). I loved getting to talk to the families staying at the Village -- I am a Disney nerd, so I can talk parks and rides and fireworks and parades FOREVER. My mom had fun reading stories to the little ones, and my brother had the best job of all: he got to be the Snowman!

He was a huge hit, dancing around with the kids, signing autographs, and collecting plenty of hugs. I actually didn't know he was in the costume at first -- he definitely was busting out some moves that I had not seen before!

We left the Village tired but so happy -- it was a great night! After a quick dinner at Chick-fil-A in Celebration (the cutest planned community ever!), we headed back to the hotel for some sleep. The alarm was set for 6:15am, and we were due back at the Village at 7:30 for breakfast!


  1. how amazing - and that cotton candy looked to die for

    stop by sometime<3

  2. It is a really fantastic place!

    Thanks for visiting -- will definitely give your blog a look :)