Thursday, December 31, 2015

Meeting Our Wish Granter!

Almost as soon as we had entered Lego Land, we were stopped by a small group of women who noticed our Make a Wish shirts and wanted to introduce themselves.  They worked at Make a Wish there in Florida, and were at Lego Land to learn more about how things at the park work for their families.  Abby told them what her wish was, and one of the women exclaimed, "Wait!  Is that Abigail?!"  It turns out, she was Abby's wish granter there in Florida!  She had been working really hard to get Abby's wish granted so that she could be Elsa!!!  

This was such a God moment!  What are the chances that we would meet the woman who was literally making Abby's dream come true?!?!  We were thrilled to be able to thank her in person.  It made our day!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lego Land

On our second day in Florida, we ate a delicious breakfast at Give Kids the World's dining hall.  They had kid-sized silver dollar waffles with all of the toppings you could want, and super good cinnamon rolls...Caleb helped himself to both!  After that, we headed out to Lego Land.  

We had been here once before a year and a half ago, but the kids still loved it.  We got there right when the park opened and stayed until it closed!  If you've never been to Lego Land, they have statues everywhere built with Legos.  It's pretty incredible!

Abby liked the Lego Friends area.  It was new since the last time we were here.

Fighting Darth Maul...

...but smiling with Darth Vader!

Caleb put one of his Minifigures on the horn :)

This Christmas tree was HUGE and made entirely of Legos!

Abby loved this Einstein model!  He was even the pressed penny she chose from Lego Land!

Abby got brave and rode a few roller coasters that she loved, and Caleb rode the Lego Chima water ride.  He got soaked like we knew he would, so he put a poncho on and rode it by himself!  He dried quickly in the heat though.  

Both kids especially loved Driving School, where they got to "drive" their own Lego car.  We rode it twice.  After riding along with both kids, I have to say that I think Abby might be the better driver of the two!  Caleb's sadistic laugh every time he jerked the car around made me a bit concerned for our future.  Thankfully, he has another 8 years before we will let him loose on the real road! 

They also really enjoyed Merlin's Ride, which whipped them around the corners,

Abby loved riding the horses that clip-clopped around the track,

and both are always ready for a carousel ride.  They do love their carousels!

One of the cool exhibits is Mini Land, which has HUGE displays of cities, historical monuments, etc., all built entirely out of Legos.  I'm pretty sure this is what Caleb wants to do when he grows up.  He would have stayed in here all day if we had let him!

This is the White House, with Santa's sleigh on the roof.

Uh oh!  Santa landed in a no-fly zone!  The secret servicemen have got 'em now!  (I love that the reindeer have their paws up!)

Oops!  This little guy isn't made of Legos!  He was quite comfy in the display though!

It was a fun day!  Merry Christmas from Lego Land!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas in the Village

One of the many activities Give Kids the World has each week (families are only there for a week, so they can repeat the same activities every week--pretty smart, right?!)  is a special Christmas celebration.

Run almost entirely by volunteers, the kids can visit with Santa,

receive presents (Caleb got a Transformer and Abby picked a doll--shocker on both accounts!),

participate in all kinds of crafts and games,

Here they're flinging chickens into this guys huge pants...kind of weird, but the kids loved it!

eat Christmas snacks, dance to Christmas music,

and watch a parade complete with dancers, toy soldiers, elves, and floats!

 It was SO much fun!  We'd been advised by many GKTW alumni to be sure to attend the Christmas celebration, and it did not disappoint!

The highlight of the night was when they made it snow.  This one little boy from Puerto Rico was beside himself, having never seen snow.  It was so sweet!  No one cared that it was actually bubbles--every child there loved playing in the "snow!"

Later, Abby danced on stage without a care in the world.  It was the cutest thing!  If you're friends with me on Facebook, the video is posted there.  Blogger doesn't like my videos and won't post them.

I'll be honest--I teared up several times that evening.  I loved listening to the laughs and shrieks of kids who were thoroughly enjoying themselves without abandon.  It was just so great to watch kids being kids...not kids with cancer, not kids with trachs, not kids with Cerebrocostomandibular Syndrome, not kids with siblings with life-threatening illnesses...just kids.  

And that's what Give Kids the World is all about.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Give Kids the World

You've probably never heard of this place, unless you have a child with a life-threatening illness or know someone who has gone on a wish trip to Disney World.  It's not one of Florida's premier attractions.  There aren't huge billboards advertising it.  It's actually in the middle of a neighborhood on an unassuming road with a Walmart at the front of it.  But guys, let me tell you, this place is amazing.  Ah-maaaaa-zing!

It's no secret that we are big Ronald McDonald House supporters and love to support the mission in any way we can.  RMH exists to allow families to be close together during medical treatment.  It promotes community among the residents, and many people we have met at RMH have become close friends because we have a common bond.

Matt and I observed that GKTW (Give Kids the World) is different than RMH.  You don't get to talk to the other families too much.  The tables at meals are individual, not family-style.  But that's ok.  GKTW exists to give families an escape from the medical stuff for a week.  Families can just be normal, without feeling like they have to explain away everything they are doing.  It's a time for fun and relaxation.  So not sharing our medical journeys that week was okay...actually, it was kind of refreshing!  I love sharing Abby's story, but it was really kind of nice to just be The Leach Family for the week.

Anyway, let me share a little more about GKTW.  First, it truly lives up to its name.  They really do try to give kids the world!!  You want ice cream at 8 a.m.?  No problem!  Banana split at 10 p.m.? Why not?  Want to decorate and eat 4 cupcakes?  Sure!  Ride the carousel 5 times in a row?  Of course!

Outside of the carousel, which is a central point of GKTW.  

The kids get the master suite with the jacuzzi tub and attached bathroom.  The gift fairy brings presents and leaves them in the villa for you to discover each evening.

A magical owl creates handmade pillows for you, after asking you questions about your favorite color and interests.  (Yes, Abby was magically given a purple one!)
Talking to the magical owl about their interests

The star fairy places a star in the ceiling of the castle for every wish kid who comes to GKTW and leaves a note telling you exactly how to find your star.
Abby decorating her star

There are over 160,000 stars in the castle--one for each of the wish kids that have stayed at GKTW.

This is the "galaxy" that Abby's star is in.

The one lit up in red is her star!  If you look closely, it says Abby.

The ice cream palace is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and you can eat as much ice cream as you want.

They have activities every night for the kids, including a Halloween party, a birthday party for Mayor Clayton, a Christmas celebration, and a beach party.  Seriously, this place is amazing!

Pictures with Mayor Clayton (he photo-bombed us because Abby was afraid of him!)

Everything is for the whole family, not just wish kids (except for the star placement in the castle).  Caleb got to participate in everything that Abby did, and he loved every second of it!

Perhaps the coolest thing about this place is that it only has about 170 paid employees...for 79 acres...with 144 villas...and tons of activities every week.  Over 1700 volunteers A DAY are needed in order to run GKTW.  People come from all over the country to serve.  Locals volunteer multiple days each week.  We met one retired couple who runs the ice cream palace two times a week.  We also talked with several groups that were here on service trips, and even met a family who took time out of their vacation to volunteer!  It is seriously run on volunteer power, and is phenomenal!

In another post, I will share more about my favorite moment at GKTW.  But know that in the heart of Kissimee, just outside of Orlando, there's a place tucked into a neighborhood behind a Walmart that is doing HUGE things.  There's a reason why Abby sobbed on the day we left.  They really are giving kids the world!