“There is a certain injustice when the innocent suffer, especially children, which touches something deep and profound in all of us. I have learned firsthand that many of life’s most painful questions have no rational answers. It is impossible to rationalize why one child is afflicted with a life threatening disease and another is not. That is for a higher power to decide. For me, the questions are much less infinite and much more earthbound. How can we help these innocent children celebrate life, and in doing so, help them and their families find more strength and courage to continue their struggle from one day to the next? At Give Kids the World, there are no moral dilemmas, no philosophical questions of good and evil to ponder. There is only the children, their special needs and our ability to help them. It is that simple.”
-Henri Landswirth, Holocaust Survivor and Founder of Give Kids the World, “Gift of Life”
It is probably true in life that most, if not all, life-changing miracles are surprises. When we first pulled into GKTW Village, our family expected beauty and kindness and fun. I am not certain we expected a miracle. But, as I search for terms to describe the feeling inside this enchanting setting, cocooned from the rest of the world and set aside for children who have suffered, I can think of no better description than miraculous.
Give Kids the World Village is a place where people greet you with kindness, always; where no one is inconvenienced by your child’s illness, diets, interruptions, or needs; where you never have to apologize or explain why your child is acting different or sad; where you are gifted every possible amenity you could desire to make your stay pleasant, for free; where the staff are called “angels” and the street names honor child heroes who battled medical terrors. It’s a place where trolleys jingle by to transport you wherever you want to go, senior citizens serve children ice cream for breakfast, trains and parades and playgrounds delight, meals and snacks are never-ending, and your house is on a quiet, southern, moss-lined street, decorated by volunteers with lights. It is a place where Christmas comes every week. GKTW is a place where children who have been ravaged by deep pains are embraced, celebrated, elevated and treasured. It’s a place where you look into the eyes of other parents and see your same pain reflected there, and where you look into the eyes of their children and see the same hope and strength you’ve known in your own child residing in theirs as well. Give Kids the World Village is a miracle. And for one indescribable week, we were a part of the miracle there.
As our van approached the House of Hearts, where the front desk is located, a volunteer angel named Mitzi pulled her golf cart up and asked if we were just arriving. She went in for us, picked up our welcome packet and Villa assignment number, and then came back to escort us to our new Home in the Village. Villa 118, labeled with our family name and painted in Mercy’s favorite color blue, was ours for the week. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a living room, and our own washer and dryer, plus bedrails for our seizure-prone child were included. There was a booster seat for our son, a jetted tub and handicap accessible shower, two televisions, cable and a DVD player, a patio and rocking chairs, and gifts waiting on the coffee table for both of our children. Fresh coffee was the push of a button away and so was dinner. Dan and I were both crying again.
“Are you hungry? Go ahead and feed the kids. I don’t care if you eat in front of me, while I do your orientation. Dial this number and order a Boston Market meal for delivery”, instructed Mitzi. Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at our door and a smiling angel-vounteer delivered piping hot chicken, potatoes, green beans, and baked apples. A feast.
Mitzi continued our orientation and, for me, this was maybe the most overwhelming portion of the trip. There is so much to do at the Village alone that those activities could have occupied our family easily for a week. However, after learning about the Village activities, we were gifted with passes to Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, and any other fun amusement or destination we could imagine in Orlando: Busch Gardens, the Kennedy Space Center, the Pioneer Village, a Pirate Putt-Putt course, on and on the list went. For each location our family chose to visit, there were special passes and instructions to follow as a Make-A-Wish family. It was a crash course, then our angel left.
We bowed our heads and prayed over our first gifted meal, in our gifted Villa, having arrived in our gifted van, fresh off our gifted flight. It was a very humbling moment, to be followed by an endless succession of humbling, gratitude-filled moments. And, for our family, it was the perfect way to begin our stay: by thanking the God who cared, had been bearing this burden with us all along our journey, and was celebrating with us over a this gifted place of peace.