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August 12, 2015

Give Kids the World Village - Kissimmee

About a decade ago, I lived in Poinciana, Florida while working in Kissimmee. Every day on my commute, I'd pass this hidden nook that held the most colorful little land - tucked away among clusters of trees. When my young daughter was with me, it would catch her eye too, and she'd get that twinkling look in those beautiful eyes, because this little land looked so magical. We would both gawk at this land each time we passed it, and we were so curious. What went on in there? What was this place? This enchanted land was Give Kids the World Village, and it really is as magical as we expected. In fact, it may be the most magical place on earth.


What is Give Kids the World?

Mission Statement: Give Kids The World is a non-profit organization that exists only to fulfill the wishes of all children with life-threatening illnesses and their families from around the world to experience a memorable, joyful, cost-free visit to the Central Florida attractions, and to enjoy the magic of Give Kids The World Village for as long as there is a need.
Give Kids the World was founded by Henri Landwirth, a man who spent his adult life between military service, learning the hospitality industry, and cooperatively launching charitable organizations, after losing his parents and his adolescence to Nazi death and labor camps. He was named one of the 12 Most Caring Individuals in America by the Caring Institute, Humanitarian of the Year by Parents Magazine, and Floridian of the Year by the Orlando Sentinel. He was so touched by the story of one young girl who passed away from leukemia while waiting to achieve her dream of visiting Orlando's theme parks, that he personally felt an obligation to see to it that no other child was denied such a wish. Along with a dream team of heavy-hitting corporate sponsors, Henri set forth to ensure that red tape would never delay granting a wish for a child in need. 
In March, Give Kids the World will celebrate its 30th anniversary. In that time, Give Kids The World has welcomed over 140,000 families from all 50 states and 75 countries. Give Kids the World Village is a 70-acre resort with 144 villas where families are welcomed for a week of fantasy fulfillment, and given the opportunity to leave their daily struggles behind. They are surrounded by a elements of wonder, magic, happiness, and life. They are embraced by the loving efforts of thousands of volunteers. Well over 15,000 selfless people have contributed their time to making this every bit as magical as it should be. Ranging in age from 12 to 93, this army of kind hearts have volunteered more than two million hours of service. 
Give Kids the World has even racked up impressive celebrity endorsements. Most recently, Ty Pennington and Kevin Bacon have embarked on missions to offer support and bring awareness to the organization's efforts. 
 
Transparency and Legitimacy

I will admit to the fact that I am leery of charity organizations. Perhaps I have trust issues, but haven't we all heard horror stories about dishonest practices disguised as good deeds? Give Kids the World is widely recognized for its transparency. Their annual financial reports are readily available for review on their website, verifying their pledge "Of each dollar we spend, approximately 91.7 cents goes directly to our families for their cost-free, magical vacation".  Charity watch groups regularly bestow their seal of approval on the organization. "Charity Navigator has awarded Give Kids The World its four-star rating for the past nine years, the organization’s top designation. Charity Navigator also ranks Give Kids The World among the Top Twenty charities nationwide". Give Kids the World receives extensive support from its corporate sponsors, who offer their contributions without the fanfare of marketing tactics. There is no corporate labeling anywhere within the village. Global powerhouse companies give boundlessly, with no ulterior motive, often alongside some of their top competitors. 
Getting Involved

There are many ways that you can contribute to the notable efforts of Henri Landwirth and Give Kids the World. For starters, they have a wish list of items that are consistently needed at the village. Of course, monetary donations are certainly welcomed as well. 

Volunteer opportunities are readily available. My daughter just completed her orientation yesterday, and I couldn't be prouder. Frankly, the volunteer positions are genuinely enjoyable, and certainly very fulfilling. 
One very easy way to support the organization is through spreading awareness. This is an organization very worthy of attention. You never know who may be in a position to help, or who may be in a position of need. I'll be singing their praises from the rooftops. Won't you join me?

Give Kids the World also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, racking up support of all kinds. Perhaps you've heard of O-Town MacDown or the Gingerbread Run? This is only the start of the events that raise both funds and awareness for the organization. 

Photo Tour 

It's one thing to read about Give Kids the World. It's another thing to see it! Join me on a tour of just some of the highlights that make up this whimsical, magical village of dreams.

Food service options are plentiful in a full-service cafeteria offering a wide variety of meal options from Boston Market, Papa John's, and more. Dine-in, pick-up, or have it delivered!
You can also opt for ice cream day or night at the Ice Cream Palace.
The Gallery of Hope celebrates sponsors and volunteers.
The Castle of Miracles is the most incredible building - full of tribute, hope, and enchantment. Rusty, the castle guard, eagerly greets you as you enter.
The main area of the castle is open, and ready to host character visits, tea parties, arts and crafts, games, and more.
It also transforms for holiday parties. The village celebrates Halloween and Christmas every week!
Twinkle Hope's La-Ti-Da Royal Spa is perfect for royal beauty treatments.
The Castle of Miracles is full of thoughtfully adorable features, including a giggle-inducing wishing well that offers a selection of audible surprises when a wish is made.
Father Time comes to vibrant life as well!
And an adventurous mini-forest, reminiscent of the Hobbit's Shire is fun to explore.
The Magic Pillow experience offers a very special treat to every child of the village.
But, by far, the most amazing element of the Castle of Miracles is the Gold Star Project. Throughout the castle, over 100,000 stars representing children's wishes have been carefully placed by the Star Fairy.
The Star Fairy makes nightly appearances in the Star Tower.
Additional commemorative touches are located throughout the village, including paving stones. You might be surprised at some of the names adorning them. 
Just outside of the Castle of Miracles, you'll find the Enchanted Mushroom Carousel.
Amberville is home to a wide assortment of fun, including an elaborate model train set, rc boats, and more!
Just outside of Amberville, you'll find a train you can ride on as well!
Speaking of rides, there's a few others to partake in, too - including Lori's Magical Flight - a groundbreaking wheelchair-accessible high-flyer that truly represents "no boundaries".
Keaton's Korral is another location allowing unique experiences. Here, you'll find horseback riding that is offered to guests of all physical abilities. The entire village is designed with accommodation and accessibility in mind.
Such consideration went in to every aspect of the village! Even the splashpad and pool areas have special features for ease of use, including zero entry and PVC wheelchairs.
Don't miss the poolside movies, shown on the sail of a pirate ship!
A brilliantly imaginative mini-golf course is located outside of Amberville. In case you haven't taken notice of the recurring theme, many of the elements of the village are named in honor of previous guests, and there is a story to accompany each. Marc's Dinoputt was conceived after a little boy's wish to be a dinosaur.
The course weaves through a cave as well...
...complete with glowing cave drawings!
For indoor fun, you're invited into a full-scale movie theater, complete with a stage where you can participate in a game show!
And when you want some outdoor time, visit the home of Mayor Clayton and Ms. Merry - the Give Kids the World mascots!
The home is miniature (because they shrink, of course), but it's the perfect size for child fun!
The home is situated in a glorious butterfly garden, complete with squirrels (even white ones!!).
The Village Chapel offers a place for quiet reflection and worship.
Memory Market provides an abundance of souvenirs and merchandise to commemorate your magical visit.
They even offer their very own, branded Candy Land game! Speaking of Candy Land, you'll find a life-sized version to play at Matthew's Boundless Playground.
The villas themselves are absolutely breathtaking. Currently, all villas are two bedrooms, but new additions are coming to the village to include three bedroom units! 
All units come with fully-equipped kitchens.
Children will love the surprise gifts and snacks that await them!
Everything is open, accessible, comfortable, and beautiful! Let's see a luxury hotel compete with these royal accommodations!
Now that you've toured a portion of the village, and learned about Give Kids the World, it's a good time to lend your support. I've never personally promoted a charitable organization on this site, but this one has grabbed hold of my heart. I urge you to find any way within your means to demonstrate your appreciation for this wonderful cause. If nothing else, we can all declare an Ice Cream Challenge and offer that $6 donation. Kevin Bacon is quite an encouraging spokesperson after all.