Staff Attends Wish Boot Camp

This article was published in Dayton Daily News on November 11, 2015.

By Susan Gnann

A Special Wish

Most will never experience the devastating news of a child’s life-threatening disease or illness. However, being a part of making a child’s Special Wish come true is something everyone can experience. At A Special Wish Foundation — Dayton Chapter (ASW), our sole mission is to grant the wishes of local children who’ve been given such diagnoses.

For most children, their wish is to go to Walt Disney World in Orlando. There is a place where nearly all of those children start their journey: Give Kids The World Village. The Village is a 79-acre, nonprofit “storybook” resort located near Central Florida’s most beloved attractions. Children and their families are treated to weeklong, cost-free fantasy vacations, complete with accommodations in the Village’s whimsical villas, donated attraction tickets, meals and much more. A Special Wish Foundation with the help of the Dayton community has sent over 800 children to Give Kids the World Village since 1988.

The staff of the Dayton Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation recently had the privilege of visiting Florida to see first-hand what wish families experience. Greeted first by Philippa at the Orlando International Airport, David Seyer, executive director, Serena Walther, event and wish manager, and Susan Gnann, marketing and development manager, continued their journey to Give Kids the World Village (GKTW). Hosted by Amy McClintock, Village vacation planning manager at GKTW, the ASW staff was given the very same, very special treatment that our wish families receive.

“We encourage wish-granting organizations to come down to the Village to experience what wish families do,” said Amy McClintock. “Seeing the vision of our founder Henri Landwirth realized is extremely powerful.”

After settling in and a great meal in the new Towne Hall at GKTW, the group toured the Village, seeing the Castle of Miracles, the World’s Largest Candy Land Game, one of the villas where families stay and, of course, the Ice Cream Palace where families can enjoy a sweet treat morning, noon or night.

“It was truly magical,” remembered Serena Walther, wish manager at ASW. “Seeing the Village from the eyes of a wish family was so helpful for me to provide an even better experience for our wish kids and their families.”

Amy organized meetings with GKTW staff to give us a better view of how the Village operates. Representatives from Guest Services, Development, Events and Donor and Volunteer Services provided ideas and advice to the ASW staff to help in our efforts to remain Dayton’s only wish-granting organization.

“It can be so challenging to communicate everything over a webinar, so having the face-to-face contact is especially helpful to wish-granting organizations like A Special Wish Foundation. It helps them plan the perfect wish trip for their families and see first-hand what is available to their families in the Orlando area,” said Amy of the visit.

Dave, Serena and Susan toured Discovery Cove where many wish kids swim with the dolphins, snorkel and splash around in a lazy river. Staff from Walt Disney World hosted a short tour of The Magic Kingdom. The last stop was Universal Studios to see the many rides, shows and of course, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The last night the group spent the evening at the Village. With a parade, fake snow, games, crafts and most importantly, Santa, wish kids and their families enjoyed the treats of the holiday season and all on a regular Thursday night.

“I think by far the best part of the trip was volunteering for GKTW’s Winter Wonderland Celebration,” recalls Dave Seyer, executive director at ASW. “Just interacting with the children and seeing them smile was worth the entire trip!”

The ASW staff has come back from Wish Boot Camp energized and ready to make each wish child’s experience even more magical. With the help of partners like Give Kids The World Village, the Dayton Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation will continue to make wishes come true for local kids.