KISSIMMEE, Fla., May 14, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, Give Kids The World (GKTW) celebrated its 25th anniversary with a carnival celebration and ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil its new Star Tower and Gallery of Hope. A child's fantasyland, where ice cream is served for breakfast and Christmas comes every week, has helped to fulfill the wishes of more than 107,000 children with life-threatening illnesses, from all 50 states and more than 70 countries.
"The past 25 years have truly been a journey of love for Give Kids The World," says GKTW President Pam Landwirth. "Through the boundless generosity of countless volunteers, sponsors and donors, we have been able to offer cost-free vacations filled with happiness, hope and inspiration for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families."
Sophie Young, a 4-year-old from Prince Edward Island, Canada is one of these children. She suffers from a congenital heart defect that has required three open heart surgeries to date. Her mother appreciates the temporary escape this haven has given her family. "We would never have been able to do anything like this on our own," said Andrea Young. "To come here and let Sophie be normal... And for [her siblings] Christopher and Katyln too...This place truly is magical."
One of the magical moments enjoyed by children visiting GKTW is walking through the enchanted castle where every wish child writes their name on a gold star that is placed in the Castle Sky by the Star Fairy. With more than 80,000 stars on the Castle Sky already, available space has dwindled, causing the need for expansion. Today, Sophie had the opportunity to be the first wish child to have her star placed inside the Star Tower ceiling.
"Since the beginning, I wished that no child would ever be turned away," says GKTW Founder (and Holocaust survivor) Henri Landwirth. "Today, that wish has come true for tens of thousands of children with life-threatening illnesses who have enjoyed being kids again at our resort and at Walt Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld."
Alyssa Pietruszka, a happy and healthy 7th grader at North Shore Middle School in Hartland, WI, was a 3-year-old wish child in 2001 when she visited GKTW. She had been diagnosed with stage three kidney cancer and was under hospice care.
"I came to the most beautiful and magical place in the world. A place where there are no needles, or medicine that makes you sick...a place where moms and dads cry tears of joy, not sadness...a place where hope fills the air. Give Kids The World was the magic medicine I needed to fight again."
One week after she returned home, her tumor started shrinking, "The doctors thought it was a miracle. It wasn't a miracle. It was the magic of Give Kids The World."
"It is stories like Alyssa's that reinforce our mission," says Pam Landwirth. "As we look to the next 25 years and beyond, we renew our promise never to turn down a child whose wish is to share in magic of our Village."
During the commemoration of this milestone anniversary, the new 3,100 square foot Gallery of Hope was unveiled which will pay tribute to the founder, corporate sponsors like Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Walmart, Hasbro and individual donors whose role has been critical to the continued success of GKTW. The visitor center will also provide guests with heartfelt stories from volunteers, families and wish children.
"I'm proud that Walt Disney World was one of the first supporters of Give Kids the World, and through the strong commitment and generosity of our cast, we continue to work closely with this organization," said Walt Disney Parks & Resorts President of Worldwide Operations and GKTW Advisory Board Member Al Weiss. "There's no doubt that the memories created at the Give Kids The World Village are treasured by the families who visit but they are also cherished by the thousands of Disney VoluntEARS whose lives have been changed by their own visits with the remarkable children they meet."
About Give Kids The World:
Give Kids The World Village (GKTW) is a 70-acre, nonprofit resort in Central Florida that creates magical memories for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. GKTW provides accommodations at its whimsical resort, donated attractions tickets, meals and more for a weeklong, cost-free fantasy vacation. With the help of many generous individuals, corporations and partnering wish-granting organizations, Give Kids The World has welcomed more than 107,000 families from all 50 states and more than 70 countries. For more information about GKTW and its mission, visit givekidstheworld.org.
SOURCE Give Kids the World