“Touching the lives of children, or so we thought.”
|Volunteers from Jeri Stull Orthodontics.|
By Teryn Strietelmeier
'Humbled, inspired, a renewed soul, life-changing, and let’s be honest a little heart-wrenching' are the words that my team uses to describe their experiences at Give Kids the World Village.
Give Kids The World Village is a nonprofit resort in Kissimmee, Florida for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The resort's focus is providing accommodations and access to donated theme park tickets. Families that visit Give Kids The World must be referred by one of over 250 wish-granting organizations or foundations, such as Make-A-Wish Foundation.
When our group from Jeri Stull Orthodontics decided to volunteer at the "Village" our objective was to give of ourselves, to feel accomplished, to touch the life of a child, to save them from sadness, and to have fun as a team. Looking back, those “objectives” seem generic and without depth; because what we expected and what actually happened was quite different.
We arrived, took a tour, helped set up a “Winter Wonderland” and we left.
Those were our superficial actions. It’s what happened to our souls in the midst of our physical movements that are worth more than words can describe. During our tour of the Village, many times I looked around to see my team tearful. We learned about the mission of the organization, the devoted staff and countless volunteers. We listened to stories on making the wishes of each child come true, and we were emotional when hearing a tale about the time when all 300 staff members and volunteers joined forces in search of a sweet little boy’s missing blanket.
We were silent with our own thoughts, we were sad, we were happy, and we were thankful all at the same time.
It was later in the tour when we walked into the Castle of Miracles that we realized we were the ones being saved that day. Saved from our own “woe is me” in life.
We followed our leader through the castle and into Star Tower. There hung a tiny gold star representing every child and their sibling that has ever stayed at the Village. As we learned about those millions of little stars taking up most of the “sky” within the castle, in walked a little girl with her family in search of her star from a previous stay at the village.
Upon locating her star, the little girl was overcome with indescribable excitement. To us, these tiny stars were simply plastic adhered to the wall. But to her, it was resounding hope, unaltered joy, outward courage and powerful healing. It held every prayer she had ever prayed. It was her wish.
As our tears continued to fall, our leader had continued with the tour, but we were too busy to notice, as we were forgetting about our superficial objectives and standing in awe of that remarkable little girl who to us represented every ill child.
We are so grateful to have had a hand in making the wishes of these kids come true. We are thankful that such a wonderful place exists, but we wish it didn’t have to. Without a doubt we will return to Give Kids the World Village to volunteer, and will most certainly hope to touch the lives of these courageous children. But we know that in reality, they are the ones who will touch our lives and forever change us.
To learn more about Give Kids the World and/or make a donation visit www.givekidstheworld.org.