Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What No One Talks About at GKTW

Our week in Florida as part of Russell’s Wish was a truly amazing experience.  I don’t use those words lightly.  The trip far exceeded our expectations.  One of the reasons for the success of this trip was the stellar care and accommodations we received at Give Kids the World (GKTW).  A 79 acre resort that is dedicated to be a destination for Wish Kids.

If you go to their website you can learn lots of info about the resort and the founder Henri Landwirth.  His story is quite amazing in itself.  However, there are a few things you just have to experience and to some degree defy explanation as the experience is unique to each family that is lucky enough to stay there.  I wanted to share some of what we saw.

No one talks about “Fight Club”

All families who are at GKTW are sponsored by a “Wish” organization and as such there is a member of the family that has a life threatening or terminal illness.  That is an attention getter when you are having dinner in a room filled with families.  Each one of these Wish Kids has a “story.”  In the 7 days we were at GKTW; not once were we asked who the “wish kid” was or asked any of the circumstances that lead to coming to GKTW.  GKTW is not a support group.  The entire experience is about having a normal vacation that any normal family would take.  There are no medical services provided at the village; and that is completely intentional.  The fact that some of these kids require medications, or barrier free access is understood.  The village is completely setup for kids with special needs but it is subtle and most issues are just “taken care of” without any spoken word.  There is a “Sharps” container in the Villa.  The washroom for the kids is absolutely massive and easily accommodates a wheelchair with a wheelchair accessible shower.  When you look really close and begin to examine the design of the facilities you begin to see the brilliance behind them.  Everything is completely thought out to accommodate almost any need without advertising it.

“Real” Patient Centred Care

GKTW is the very definition of patient centred care.  That may sound strange as GKTW has no medical staff and no medical treatment ever takes place at the village.  What they do provide is a holiday where almost every aspect has been designed and planned with the wish kid and their families in mind.  Some of the tiniest details are completely taken care of.  Not only at the Village but also with the theme parks in the area.  An orientation is given to each family to explain how to navigate the parks and the village.  GKTW has relationships with all of the parks and as a Wish Family you get special access to the parks.  In effect, lineups at the theme parks just don’t apply to Wish Families.  If you wear your Wish Badge the red carpet is rolled out at the theme parks.  It’s an unreal experience. 

The true test of how effective GKTW at putting the needs of the Wish Kids first is the reaction from the kids.  Our kids felt at home immediately.  After a day of travelling to get to the Village we arrived about 8:00 in the evening and not having a proper supper.  Upon arrival, we were quickly taken to our Villa and immediately handed a take-out bag that had a hot meal ready to eat.  Meat, Potatoes, Vegatables…the whole nine yards.  We didn’t ask, the need was identified and was taken care of.  That is a great example of what our whole week was like.  

Going to the theme parks can be very stressful with all of the crowds and activities.  Every day as we returned “home” you could see the stress evaporate as our kids felt so comfortable at the village.  I think one of the things Russell enjoyed most was meal time where he had a great time with the volunteers.  We would just let him do his thing.  He would take off and get his own food which gave him a great sense of independence.  Because he would get a volunteer to help him out and carry his tray; he would usually zip through the line and he would also get to choose our table.  We would be stuck in our line and he would have to wait for us.  On one occasion, I was trying to find where he had gotten to and I had a hard time finding him.  When I looked a little closer I found him sitting at a table “holding court” where he was entertaining no less than three volunteers.  Our boy has personality…I’ll give him that.

Something is Missing

As Susan and I were relaxing by the pool on the first or second day (can’t remember) we began discussing the cost of what it takes to operate a facility like GKTW.  The facility is completely operated by donations.  A significant amount of corporate sponsors and private donors.  Absolutely, no-where in the facility is anything remotely resembling corporate sponsorship.  All of the facilities are named after former Wish Kids.  Places like Amberville or Matthew’s Playground.  No corporate logos.  The only indication of donors is on the walkways where there are bricks that are purchased through donations by families of children.  I asked about corporate sponsors and I got an interesting response.  There are very important corporate sponsors who support GKTW.  In addition to providing financial support the corporate sponsors also provide volunteer support.  There is a volunteer facility that is not accessible to the families where volunteers receive orientation and where corporate sponsors can showcase their involvement with GKTW to their (Corp sponsors) employees.  Nothing corporate is ever made visible to the Wish Families.

Don’t Over Think

GKTW has a lot of symbolic traditions.  One of the traditions is the “Wish Star”  Each Wish Kid is given a small star in which they get to write their name and that star is placed in the Castle of Wishes where that star will be placed and displayed forever.  There are approximately 143000 stars currently on display.  It’s a nice tradition.  The dangerous part of the tradition is to think about 143000 stars that coincides with 143000 stories that goes along with them.  Thinking about that can be overwhelming.  A vivid reminder of the amount of kids out there who have had been through or who are going through some very tumultuous times.  We are so fortunate to have had this experience.  An experience like no other.

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