In 2001 while on my Disney College Program at Walt Disney World I got to play Fairy Godmother to a sweet little girl...and then I went to my car and cried.
It was late and just a moment before park close. I was cleaning and organizing the shop, In Character, and getting ready to lock up for the night when my manager appeared. She asked if I could stay late. I couldn't imagine what she'd need done at that hour, but I said yes, thinking of a few extra dollars in my paycheck.
She said she needed me to help a little princess find her perfect gown. There was a Make-a-Wish family coming our way to shop in peace without the crowds that were filling the shops on Sunset and Hollywood Blvd. Those locations can be quite cramped and hectic at park close and since we had the full stock of princess attire, we were gifted this task.
For the next 20 minutes I helped the little girl - about 7 years old and battling life threatening cancer - and her family find the perfect princess dress AND accessories (to quote Olympia Dukakis from Steel Magnolias, "The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.") to wear for the rest of their trip. They wandered the store looking at each section. In Character was THE princess shop in the park so there was a lot to choose from.
The Snow White gown was a clear front runner and where we ultimately landed. Obviously a classic choice. Add in a beaded tiara, wand and shoes and our princess was transformed and ready to greet her awaiting kingdom.
It was a fun, but also incredibly surreal experience. The child that is coming to you is sick and the family is in great pain, but you can't act on that. Despite being acutely aware of their situation, you have to be the Cast Member that makes magic in a way that lets them forget and be in the moment. There's no preparing for it. It's a crash course.
The family was so grateful my manager and I stayed late to help them and I couldn't imagine with all they were going through how kind they were to us. After we parted ways I continued on the normal closing duties, cashed out my drawer and started the the walk to my car. I was trying so hard to keep the rollercoaster of emotions I was feeling in check as I walked down an empty Hollywood Blvd., backstage and out to Cast parking. So many thoughts in my head like; I'm so glad I had that experience, I hate that this family is hurting, I hope they enjoy every moment, I wish I could have done more, why is life so fragile...I can't believe that three minutes before I met this family I was thinking about getting a bigger paycheck.
As soon as I closed my car door I burst into tears. This was quite an intense experience. To have this much time alone serving a Wish family isn't common. 99%+ of Cast Members will never get an experience like this. But this is certainly the reason they go to work everyday, to make magic for anyone who needs it.
During the remainder of my time at the Walt Disney Company - nearly 2 more years - I never had more than passing moments with Wish families. When I would share about my time helping a Wish princess find her gown with other Cast Members, the mixed emotions were palpable. All Cast Members want to serve those most in need, but feel the deep sorrow that it could be under such heartbreaking circumstances. It's a juxtaposition on many levels, yet strengthens the resolve. The sincerity of these people is the real Disney magic.
And now we have an opportunity to help them make even more wishes come true!
To kick off the holiday season I wanted to do something more than just talk about Christmas trees and gingerbread cookies. Since this is also the giving season, I've arranged a fundraiser with Give Kids the World.
For those unfamiliar, Give Kids The World Village is an 89-acre, nonprofit resort in Kissimmee where, kids with life threatening illnesses and their families are treated to weeklong vacations at no cost. This includes entrance to area theme parks.
They work closely with wish granting organizations like the Make-a-Wish Foundation to coordinate eligibility and travel arrangements for each family.
Our fundraiser is set up and ready to go. I set a modest goal of $250 so if we can get 50 people to give $5 then we've hit our goal! The funds go straight to Give Kids the World. It's set up on their site so they get your donation immediately. And our fundraiser goes to December 31st so there's plenty of time to donate!
Please feel free to share this out to your friends and family. Let's make wish granting a new holiday tradition!
Visit give.gktw.org/mainandmagic now to make your donation!