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GKTW

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Student’s Full Name
Professor’s Name
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Volunteering Experiences in Give Kids the World Village
Before starting to recount my experiences, I consider important to speak, at least briefly about Give Kids the World (GKTW), its history, and their initiatives.
GKTW is a non-profit resort in Kissimmee, Florida. It serves children suffering from life-threatening illnesses, and their families. The resort focuses on providing accommodations, and access to the areas of the park. To be able to visit the theme park, the person must be referred by a wish-granting organization such as Make-A-Wish-Foundation. The resort includes 140 villas on 70 acres of land. After I had gone, a handful of villages had been renewed and refurbished.
GKTW was founded by a Belgian man called Henri Landwirth, a Holocaust survivor who spent many years in concentration camps. After the war, Landwirth moved to the United States, studied management, and while operating a hotel, he started to develop the idea of building a hotel to accommodate children with life-threatening diseases and their families. The main focus of GKTW is to provide an alternative to kids who want to visit Disney World, and other nearby locations, but given their conditions, they would not be able to thoroughly enjoy the theme parks. After a few years, the park became wildly successful, and after an incident where a kid died without going to the park, Landwirth created the village in a way that travel arrangements could be made quickly, and with no waiting list.

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To be eligible, children between the ages of 3 and 18 have to be diagnosed by a licensed doctor, and referred by one of the wish-granting organization around the world.
The Village can accommodate 141 families, and has many places to have fun in. For instance, the Castle of Miracles, and the Ice Cream Palace. GKTW is operated by a handful of professional staff that is increased by the everyday presence of volunteers like me. Each year the park welcomes at least 7,000 visitors from the U.S. and around the world. If the kids, or their families what to go to different attractions within the park’s reach, such as Busch Gardens, they may request tickets in the village. To run smoothly, the village partners up with corporations that supply the village with volunteers, and food. Give Kids the World is an amazing place where many wishes come true, and creates memorable experiences for kids who otherwise, would not be able to have such a beautiful experience.
Before starting with my recollections, I will help you picture the village so you can understand what I lived during my volunteership in Give Kids the World. Imagine a place where you could eat all the ice cream you want, play among prehistoric animals, and be able to ride horses, and put a star in a tree. For many kids, those things are simply dreams, things they might not be able to do, or achieve outside the park. That is why the role played by the foundation is so grand, and many volunteers go there to help those kids make their wishes become true. The kids and their families spend a week-long vacation free of cost in the resort, and volunteers like me, along with a highly dedicated staff, cater for their needs. I was there for a week, along with ten other volunteers from my school, and two teachers. In my opinion, we spent a great week, and the chance of being able to help, and make the difference, was one of the motivations I had to perform my duties with a smile, and the best disposition possible.
After proving this small background, I will recount my experiences. I shall divide them into days, to give a more comprehensive, and cohesive narration.
Day 1. Sunday. On Sunday, we arrived at the hotel. The hotel was very nice; cozy, and clean. We did not stay at the village hotel, since it was full of guests at that time. We stayed in a nearby one that allowed us to be as close as possible without disturbing the kids, and their families. I wish I could have stayed in the village, since it is beautiful. The village has 96 2-bedrooms, villages where the families can stay. However, at the time I volunteered, the villas were full and at many families had to be accommodated in the nearby hotels. For instance, in the hotel we stayed at, there were a handful of families, and we had the opportunity to share with them in a deeper way, as we shared a few breakfasts together, and they talked to us about their struggles, and their difficulties. After the arrival, the people of Give Kids the World gave us pointers on how we should conduct with children, to be sensitive toward their disabilities and illnesses, and provide the best care possible. It was not difficult, but it requires patience and a good disposition toward children and their difficulties. The people who gave us direction were very kind and explained us about the mission of GKTW, and what they intended to do. I had researched a little, and I was prepared for many of the things, but it was exciting to know that I was finally in the place I wanted to be, and that I was about to life one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life so far. The day was long, but full of emotions, and new things. That day it was quite hard for me to sleep, because I could not help but think about all the things I was going to do in the week.
Day 2. Monday. Every Monday, Give Kids the World hosts a pool party at the Park of Dreams, and I was happy to be part of it. The Park of Dreams is a big pool that can be used by guests that use a wheel-chair. The pool has frogs that spray water, and a spray park for kids to play in. My duty was not the most fun of those I did in the week, as I had to restock towels, and be aware of the kids. My duty was mix between being a lifeguard, and an errands boy. However, it was really touching to see kids in wheel-chairs faces when they entered the pool. To many of them, it was even the first time they entered the pool. The look on their faces was of pure bliss. Despite I was not doing a super exciting job, I was very happy to help kids fulfill their dreams, and to be able to help at least a little bit, put a smile on my face. Also, to see the families enjoying themselves, and having a great time enjoying a barbecue, was simply amazing.
Day 3. Tuesday. On Tuesday, I worked on the movies. Movies are shown every night in that beautiful theater with 104 seats, and plenty space for wheel-chairs. I was happy that when I volunteered there, the movies were shown outside the theater instead of outside, and the guests roasted snores as they watched the movie. The set-up was magical, and the kids could not be happier. I imagine that GKTW does this as a way to provide a safe place where kids can enjoy a camping-like experience, while counting with the accommodations they needed. My duty was to provide the guests with snores and check that everybody was ok, and having fun. Although most kids have seen movies, and enjoyed them, to be able to watch a movie in a complete different setting was enough to excite them, and the parents seemed pretty grateful as well, since their kids’ needs were being catered, and they could relax and watch the show as well. This was one of my favorite days of the week.
Day 4. Wednesday. Wednesday we went to Cocoa Beach, a beach located nearby the park. On the beach I had the opportunity to relax, and have a good time hanging out with the rest of the students and even being able to chat a little with the professors that came along with us. I consider that being able to be on the beach, in a place where you can rest, and enjoy the sun made me see the teachers as more human, and less as teaching machines that are only there to teach. Cocoa beach is a surfing beach, and I saw many people surfing. I wish I could have surfed as well, but since I had never done it, I would have performed rather poorly, if you ask my opinion. However, I had the opportunity to reflect on my day, and in the rest of the week I had ahead. Also, to think that I was already doing a difference by helping those who needed me, made me feel well with myself.
Day 5. Thursday. Thursday we had breakfast at the hotel, and we had the opportunity to know a few families that were in the village. Thursday I worked in the Castle of Miracles. It is such an amazing place, I would say that it is my favorite. When you enter, a suit of armor greets you. There are many fun and games the kids can play, and magical elements to interact with. For instance, the talking clock, and the wishing well. The well was one of my favorite parts of the castle. Although it is not deep, the well has strings crossed all over it, and if you throw a coin, the sound vibrates and creates a resonating sound that crosses the room. The most emotional moment I lived in the week happened there, at the castle. The ceiling is filled wit stars, and every wish-child gets a magical golden star where they can write their name on, or even draw in. After doing that, the kids put their star on a box, and the star fairy puts it in the ceiling for everyone to see. I was really touched because the kids would ask me to locate their stars and show them to them. I happily obliged and to be able to see the look on their faces as they saw how the star fairy put their wish on the ceiling was priceless, and amazing. I even shed a few tears after seeing that. To see that the stars will remain there forever, padding the ceiling and filling it with the children’s wishes is great. It is a great way to show kids that they are not forgotten, and that their dreams are taking into account, that they have the same value as everyone else, and they should never think otherwise. Also, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with parents that came to see their children’s star after their kids passed away and it was really touching.
Day 6. Friday. On Friday, I worked at the Gingerbread House Restaurant. The restaurant is a gingerbread house-style buffet eatery that is catered exclusively by a company called Perkins, whose charity is to serve the park in an exclusive way. The intentions of the buffet are that everyone is served as they go, not to single out kids with special needs that might, but to integrate them in the buffet experience. The restaurant is really beautiful, and the tables are decorated in the same fashion as the Gingerbread house is. The restaurant also features over 1,000 dolls that previous guests from all over the world had donated to Give Kids the World, after staying at the resort. I got the chance to work there serving meals to the kids and their families and got many thank-yous in return. Most of the families that go to GKTW resorts are aware that most of the facilities are run by volunteers and are really grateful, thanking us every time they have the opportunity. The smiles on the people’s faces as they know that you are there to serve, and help them out of the kindness of your heart is really touching, because there is a big difference between being paid, and doing something you do not enjoy, and doing something pro bono, that really makes a difference.
Day 7. Saturday. We left on Saturday, and I must say that I was a little sad about leaving, as I did not want to leave such an amazing place that made so many people smile. However, as all the things in the world, this one had to end as well, and although it did not make me happy to leave, I was happy with having done something that really meant something. I could have stayed that entire week at home, just chilling, but instead I decided to do something else, I decided to go the extra mile, and give an extra effort to prove myself I was able to do something worthy, and to enrich my life experiences. All the charity works should be done with that thought in mind, that you are there to cater to others, but at the same time you are catering to your soul, and to your feelings. I will never forget what I learned in Give Kids the World, and I hope that the families never forget what I did. Even if they do, I will certainly keep these memories close to my heart.

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