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Where Happiness and Hope Go Hand in Hand

Right here in Central Florida, Give Kids the World Village is changing the lives of children with terminal illnesses.

Where Happiness and Hope Go Hand in Hand

Theme park visits, activity-packed days and pool time with family. That’s what visitors can expect at the Give Kids the World Village.

Located in Kissimmee, this 84-acre nonprofit resort is dedicated to giving kids with terminal diseases, and their families, the best week of their lives. Families come from around the world to stay at the village as part of their child’s wish to play in the area’s parks.

“We will never turn a child away who makes a wish to the Central Florida theme parks,” says Janet Ray, vice president of marketing at GKTW.

When a child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, the entire family is affected. Dealing with doctor visits, expensive treatments and the thought of their loved one in pain can cause sleepless nights for parents and siblings.

With a spa for the kids to get glammed up and an Ice Cream Palace that serves ice cream for breakfast, time spent at the village is meant to ease the stress of a family’s typical routine. Ray says the organization guarantees that each stay is perfect.

“There are no do-overs,” she says. “There are no second chances.”

As a place to celebrate happiness, joy and laughter, there is so much to do for everybody who steps foot into the village’s colorful world. Its cartoon-style buildings appeal to children, and the property boasts a miniature golf course, horseback riding and a playground that brings the world of Candy Land to life. Theme park style rides, such as Lori’s Magical Flight, the Enchanted Carousel and JJ’s Express Train, are wheelchair accessible so everyone can ride.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without the help of GKTW’s partner wish-granting organizations and individuals in the community who donate, volunteer and advocate for the nonprofit. Each week, 1,700 volunteer shifts are filled. These volunteers help the full-service resort fulfill its mission by playing games with the kids, scooping ice cream and greeting families as they arrive at the castle.

Ray says the positivity of the village is infectious and that each volunteer is changed in positive ways. “There’s no way someone can’t feel empathetic to this because it could be any of us,” she says.

GKTW hosts several fundraising events each year to ensure they can continue granting wishes. The annual Challenge for Hope Run, formerly called the Gingerbread Run, took place earlier this month. This year, groups from around the world had the opportunity to donate. Anyone who was unable to attend could create a virtual team to raise money.

Next, the organization will be participating in Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving back, on Nov. 28. Ray and other GKTW employees are also preparing for the Over the Edge event, where individuals will fundraise for a chance to jump off of the Hyatt on International Drive. This event will take place in February.

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