Everyone knows about organizations like Make a Wish and Children’s Wish that grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. What you might not know is that a high proportion of kids’ wishes are to visit the Orlando area and that since 1989, there has been a beautiful village to accommodate them and their families.
Give Kids the World Village is a calm oasis just minutes from Disney, Universal, Sea World and all the other Orlando attractions. It’s a non-profit resort that welcomes families from around the world and facilitates their wish experience. The resort has villa accommodations, a pool, a carousel, several dining facilities, pizza delivery, a castle, and even a snoring tree. With the exception of the goods for sale in the gift shop, everything is provided free of charge for the guests and the whole thing runs on volunteer power.
Although many of the volunteers are local regulars, the village welcomes people from all over who are willing to give a few hours to work a shift. If you are coming to Orlando on vacation, and want to volunteer, there is a little bit of forethought required.
Every person needs to submit an application and undergo a police check. GKTW takes care of the police check so there is no effort required on that end. Volunteers must be 12+ but they will take slightly younger kids if they are in a family group. Note that for many tasks, like driving around in a golf cart, you must be 16+ or 18+. If you are coming from out of state, you can do your training at the beginning of your first shift.
We’ve now volunteered twice and greatly enjoyed it. The kids in particular loved it. The first shift, Fabhio was assigned to the castle and the all important star duty and the girls and I were in the cafe helping customers get food and drink and busing tables. It was the middle of the day and pretty quiet. The only families around at that time are those arriving or leaving – every one else is at Disney or wherever their wishes have brought them. Lastborn finished her shift and asked if we could get a snack and come back to work the dinner rush!
Hurricane Matthew put a glitch in our plans over the past two days as it did for everyone in Florida, some much more than others! Luckily for those of us inland, the path of the hurricane veered slightly, significantly lessening the impact of the storm. After being cooped up for 36 hours and with practically everything still closed, we responded to a plea for 17 volunteers to work a few hours that very night. The village had reopened and the Pirates and Princesses party was on!
Last night, we face painted, gave tattoos, oversaw the coin toss and treasure hunt and we helped create artful treasure maps that we hung on the wall. Everything at GKTW village is highly organized. The village can hold almost 500 guests and is always full of people. We had a great turn out yesterday and its wonderful to see so many people having fun.
Telling people about GKTW, I’ve gotten raised eyebrows that portend a potentially tragic atmosphere. If that is what might stop you from volunteering, please set your mind at ease. These families are just regular families. Almost all of the children have siblings and coming to here is a chance to relax, have fun, and be taken care of by people who understand their needs.
The exception to what I’ve just said is possibly the castle. It can be very moving. The castle ceiling is covered in gold stars – one for each sick child that has come to the village. Kids decorate their star as they wish and then at night a fairy sends it up to a constellation on the ceiling where it stays forever. When families come back to see a child’s star, they give some basic information and a trained volunteer uses a special computer tablet to locate the constellation and start searching for the star. In Fabhio’s first shift, two separate family groups came from out of state to find a star. Tears were certainly shed and memories brought back. One couple then put on aprons and signed in for their first ever volunteer shift.
The number of stars is breathtaking. Once in a blue moon, a star will fall off the ceiling and no one will be sure which constellation it has come from. There is a wee section where they re-affix any fallen stars. The man working with Fabhio told him that a couple of years ago, a survivor came back to see the star he had left in the castle in 1996. They were having a hard time finding it but while they were searching, a star fell from the ceiling right into his lap as he sat in his wheelchair. And it was his star. Reading that here, you might think, “Ya right.” But standing in the castle with all those stars hearing that, you will have instant goosebumps on your arms and a lump in your throat.
Our time in Orlando is drawing to a close but we’re hoping to squeeze in at least one more shift at GKTW. I also have my eye on a snazzy umbrella at the gift shop and at $13.95, it is cheaper than just about anything at Disney.
Give Kids the World Village
210 S Bass Rd, Kissimmee, FL 34746, United States
Tel (407) 396-1114