We have been home for a few weeks, and while the busy-ness of everyday life has put us back into our regular paces, I can’t help but turn my mind back to the slow days at the Village. The days where you prayed for each moment to be a little slower than normal to enjoy fully the short time we would have with this group of people, many who we would never know fully, but who would touch our lives, changing us. Moments where if you gave yourself permission you could feel the weight of the why this magical place existed. There was never a day I walked off that campus that I did not carry with me the heaviness of the impact of disease in the life of a child.
I was offered the opportunity on Monday night at the village to drive a shuttle.My shift would be from 6:00-10:00 pm, where I would be transporting families all around the village in elongated golf carts. The shuttles were retrofitted to allow for secure wheelchair and mobility chair transport. Throughout the night, I would be called to pick up families to take them to the movie theater, the pool, the party or to get food. Some jumped on the shuttle to just get to see the Village in its entirety. Others, were heading back to their Villas for the evening to go through their evening routines. All had enjoyed full days at their wish location. To talk with families from all over the States and four families with an International address was a fantastic way to learn more about the process of coming to the Village.
The families were varied in their size, nationality, race, dynamic, and economic situation. Their commonality in a child who was living with a medical challenge. And maybe their conflict with the Central Florida Humidity– a common enemy that bonded us all together. As I shared small talk with the families and heard about their days, I was struck by how in all the differences, even the differences these families had with each other in the severity of conditions, we all shared in the truth that nothing is as important, nor even significant in comparison , than the well-being of our children.
I overheard a boy named Charlie, whose thick English accent thrilled my ears say, “Mummy, this has been a very good day, but I am so very tired. Do you think there is any way possible to come back here again? I like it so very much.” Give Kids the World Village allows a child to come once as a resident guest, but alumni children are allowed to come back for non- resident visits to enjoy the parties, pool and other Village perks. Return guests pay for their meals, but are received with open arms to enjoy the offerings of the village, find their star, and recapture the love and magic the campus holds. While the current wish Kids take priority, the alumni of the Village are a close second. For so many families the village is a place of happiness in the midst of a very dark season. It is understandable there would be a desire to come back and visit that place, that feeling.
These families, which differed in so many ways, had one thing in common, a love for a child with special needs. There was a happy tired in their eyes as I dropped them off, family by family, at their Villas. The tired that comes from parenting a full day. The tired that comes from the heavy heat of Florida. The tired known only to the parents of sick children. But as each departed, that tired was framed in a smile of gratitude. The smile of good memories and full days. I would watch as I was able, the familiar end of the day walk into evening routines. These families just like mine, yet so very different. I found myself praying for each of them as they made their way from the shuttle. I have found myself in prayer for these families, now as I have returned home. It is the gift of this trip to speak their names to God.
With my visit to the Give Kids the World Village, my teenage girls and their church youth group were volunteering at the Village. The teens were spread throughout the campus volunteering in different ways, most always with the opportunity to have personal contact with the families. These interactive experiences made lasting impressions on the teens. Relationships were built between our group and families. Interactions that have led to phone numbers, addresses, and social medias presences being shared.
“It was difficult for me, at times to understand which of the kids within a family was dealing with illness. I wasn’t quite prepared for that,” a sixteen year old shared. “Of course, there were clear signs in some families because of the medical equipment. I think I realized how there are times there will be no outwards signs of the suffering people are experiencing. I think that is something I need to consider everywhere.”–Molly, age 16
“I met the little boy the morning of the last day we were there at the train. He had a hat on and just the most excited look in his eyes for this train. He immediately went to the front of the train and I hopped in my seat and began our ride around the track. When the ride was over, I gave him a high five and told him he was the greatest conductor I had ever seen and that he was awesome. In the afternoon, I was in the kitchen carrying trays for families when I saw my little conductor. I hurriedly ran over to talk and saw he had a light saber, so we started talking Star Wars then Marvel and before I knew it we had been sitting at their table for 30-40 minutes. They had to leave, but before they did my conductor told me his address so I could go visit him in Texas, which then prompted his grandmother to exchange numbers so we could stay in touch…the family walked back in, so of course I ran over to hug them and say I was so happy to see them yet again. But before I could express my excitement, my little conductor held out a box with the Alex and Ani logo on it. ‘Look it has your name on it!’ The grandmother wanted to be sure I wouldn’t forget about them.”–Alex, age 18
The thing I have taken away from the time at Give Kids the World is the understanding that there was nothing we did in that magical place that could not be replicated wherever we were. The world is full of hurting people. People who are experiencing unthinkable struggles, all the while searching for hope and joy in the midst of the valley are standing in line beside us at Kroger. There are mothers who are overwhelmed in the care and keeping of children who need a hug and a momentary break from the burden that is also their blessing. There are children who need the magic of hope and thrill of wonderment in the midst of trials children should not have to bear. There are people who need to be seen for more than their illnesses or challenges. These things do not require a special location. These opportunities abound around us if we have eyes to see. May we see them. May we be the vessels of magic and joy for children. May we be the comfort to parents who are burdened. May we actively seek to meet these needs everywhere we go. For the world is our mission field. There is no special week to meet needs. May we Give Kids the World in our own little corner of it.