PIGEON FORGE, Tenn., Sept. 30 /PRNewswire/ -- A family that never has experienced a traditional vacation has a date circled for a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains because legions of friends rallied around them in the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism "Taking Vacation Back" campaign.
John and Leila Waltman of Pelion, S.C., and their three children – one with severe medical problems – also won $15,000 to help with a year's mortgage payments.
"Taking Vacation Back," which supported family vacations, ran from April through July with progressively larger cash prizes and vacations to Pigeon Forge, a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and home of the Dollywood theme park.
John, who lost an eye in an accident eight years ago, is a landscaper, and Leila works at a Food Lion. Their oldest child, Jonathan, was born four months premature and requires 24-hour care.
"Jonathan's almost 17. He can't walk or sit up, but he's a trip to be around. He loves music and go-carts," Leila said, noting that her family has had brief trips to Orlando and Myrtle Beach but "we've never taken what would be called a traditional family vacation."
Leila's mother, Tippy Cameron, nominated the Waltmans with a short essay about why they needed a vacation to Pigeon Forge. The campaign generated more than 3,000 essays – 897 of which were published online – and the Waltmans' story garnered almost 30,000 votes.
"Pigeon Forge is an advocate for family vacations. The idea of 'Taking Vacation Back' was to remind people how important vacations are to families' traditions and shared histories. The essays highlighted many types of stories, and we were astounded that the big prize winners will have their first real vacation with us," said Leon Downey, executive director of tourism.
Winners were determined monthly by online voting, and Leila said her support grew from the many doctors and nurses her family has encountered, from her work at Food Lion, from children she knew when she used to drive a school bus and from her mother's connections.
The first month of "Taking Vacation Back" awarded $100 in gas money to 20 families. May's prize was $2,100 for a year's utility payments to 10 families, and June's award was $6,600 for a year's car payments to five families. Every winning family and that family's nominator won trips to Pigeon Forge. July's vote produced one winner, the Waltmans, who also won in May and June.
"Vacations and time off are critical to emotional and physical health," Downey said. "We hope this campaign reinforces the importance of vacation and encourages families to make vacation memories."
Pigeon Forge has a resident population of approximately 6,200 who annually host more than 10 million visitors. Information about Pigeon Forge is available at www.MyPigeonForge.com and toll-free at 1-800-251-9100.
SOURCE Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism