When I walked into the room and was greeted by almost life-sized Mickey and Minnie Mouse balloons waving at me, I knew I was in for a treat.
More than 25 employees from our R&D Information Technology group had organized a Disney-themed wish “reveal” party for six Philadelphia children and their families scheduled to travel to Disney World this spring thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
On my way to the event, I didn't quite know what to expect. Truth be told, I wore waterproof mascara that day not knowing if I could keep it together realizing that these children were facing life-threatening conditions.
But my cosmetics trick was unnecessary since our GSK employees, led by Vanessa Van De Venter, had organized a happy event with festive activities, including creating Countdown to Disney Calendars and decorating Mickey-shaped cookies. There were Disney decorations galore, a Flavor of Philly lunch, and Disney movies. The kids and their siblings were treated to backpacks and gift bags brimming with Disney-themed toys and treats. But the best was watching the kids dance as a DJ (whose own sister was granted her wish through Make-A-Wish back in 1988) played Disney music; in fact, many of the kids made the life-sized Mickey and Minnie balloons their dance partners of choice.
It was inspiring to watch these joyful children having fun despite their life-threatening medical conditions. This included little Jordyn (a.k.a., “Tinkerbell”…and yes, that is her favorite Disney character) who has a serious heart condition but, nonetheless, had the energy of five children. She…would…not…stay…still! Running and laughing and dancing. . Here is the one photo where she actually stood still for three seconds
Equally inspiring was talking to the families of these children and seeing their absolute devotion to and love for their kids. They hugged and kissed them, told funny stories about them, and talked about how hard they advocate for their kids’ rights.
Having a niece with severe developmental disabilities, I am acutely aware of the financial, physical and emotional toll it can take on an entire family. And it’s important to realize that many families, including several who were at this event, have more than one child with special needs.
That is why Make-A-Wish is so wonderful. As one mother told me as she fought back tears, their upcoming trip will help them forget everything that goes on at home with her son’s medical issues and countless doctor appointments.
According to a 2011 U.S. study of wish impact, most health professionals surveyed believe a wish-come-true provides positive impact on the health of the children. Kids, themselves, say wishes give them renewed strength to fight their illness.
But what the Make-A-Wish kids may not know is how the rest of us gathered strength from their stories, courage, and resilience. GSK, the Four Seasons Hotel, Schaffer Sound, and employees of the Disney Store each played a role to make this reveal party a memorable and extra special event for these memorable and extra special kids.