Elizabethtown Students Use Their Spring Break to “Give Kids the World”
There’s ice cream for breakfast and pizza at midnight and horseback riding in between. Goblins and ghouls walk the streets on Monday, and snow falls on Thursday. There is a castle housing a fairy and a merry-go-round in the park.
Whatever you want is yours, whether it’s on the menu or not. Everywhere you look, there is a smiling face. This is what 12 Elizabethtown College students and two staff members experienced when they flew to Kissimmee, Florida, over Spring Break to volunteer at Give Kids the World (GKTW) Village for five days.
“The Village is a place for families of children who have terminal illnesses to stay while they visit the parks in Central Florida,” senior Alicia Froh, an attendee of the trip, explained, adding that it is designed like Candy Land. “It’s free for them to stay. Each family gets their own little ‘villa.’ They get free meals, and there are free activities for them to do every day.”
Families are referred by one of wish-granting organizations or foundations in the United States, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Because the resort focuses on children with life-threatening conditions, it is careful to be accommodating of any health restrictions. Besides making the resort wheelchair-accessible, GKTW provides people to push the wheelchairs. All edges found in the Village are softened to protect children whose conditions can lead to rapid blood loss or other injuries.
Several E-town students volunteered at the ice cream parlor, which is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. “They actually make shirts that say ‘Ice cream for breakfast every day’!” Froh said. The parlor is another example of the Village’s willingness to accommodate. “They had lactose-free ice cream, soy- and rice-based ice cream, and they had gluten-free cones.” The “wish kid,” siblings and parents got to make an ice cream cone with anything they wanted on it. “It wasn’t an extra dollar for toppings. Everything was free,” Froh said. If a family returned late from one of the parks and missed the normal dining hours, there was a pizza delivery service, with which several Elizabethtown students volunteered throughout the week.
Sharon Sherick, assistant director of the Center for Community & Civic Engagement, and Susan Smith, director of the College Store, spent the week with the 12 student volunteers. Sherick and Smith had been on this trip two years ago and have expressed an interest in trying to run it every two years, according to Froh. This was the second time the trip was planned.
It wasn’t sad at all. They [GKTW] really try to make it special. They’ll do anything for the families.”
The opportunity to volunteer was open to students of any major. The only requirement was that the student signed up. “Some people went because service was required for their classes. I know some people were eventually writing papers to reflect on it,” Froh said. She mentioned that she and a few others on the trip attended because of a strong desire to serve. “It was a good time to do it because we already had a break,” she added.
“You would think it would be sad, because you know all the kids are there for a reason,” Froh said. “To have a wish granted, you have to have a serious illness. Sharon had told us that, from her experience, it was really fun, and they’d try to make it really happy. The parents don’t want it to be sad. It wasn’t sad at all. They [GKTW] really try to make it special. They’ll do anything for the families.”
Other volunteer opportunities for Elizabethtown students included working a merry-go-round or being stationed at the Village’s castle. Every child who stays at the resort writes his or her name on a star; each star is later placed on the ceiling of the castle. Froh explained that there was a “Wish Fairy” simulator on a television screen, which told the children that their stars would go up overnight and be there in the morning. “There were families who came back to the Village and tried to find stars from 2000 and even earlier than that,” Froh said.
One of the day’s activity was Froh’s favorite. A GKTW volunteer brought two specially trained horses for the children to ride. The Elizabethtown volunteers walked next to the children as they rode and offered their arms for balance support. Froh especially liked this activity because the volunteers were given the opportunity to really talk to the wish kids and their families. Each child received a cowgirl or a cowboy hat.
Every day of the week is a holiday at the Village. Mondays are Halloween. The students volunteered by handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters or were positioned at stations to complete activities such as making dirt pudding. Thursdays are Christmas. A Christmas parade leads through a snow-covered resort. Santa and Mrs. Claus hand out presents to each child.
“They do it because some of the kids have been in the hospital for holidays,” Froh said. “They may have missed trick-or-treating. And they don’t know if they’re going to make it to the next holiday.”
But for this week, at least, Elizabethtown students were able to give these kids the world.