By Paul Poblocki
For the News-Gazette
Sunshine Foundation in Davenport has been granting wishes to chronically ill children for the last 40 years.
It will be celebrating that achievement at the 7th Annual Dream Village Gala at the B Resort and Spa at Disney Springs Nov. 12.
It started with Philadelphia police officer Bill Sample, whose regular beat was security detail at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
One day, while Bill was on duty, a young man named Bobby was wheeled in by his mother and father.
Bill was the kind of guy who made it his business to know a little something about all the kids who walked through his door.
He learned that Bobby, a terminally ill leukemia patient, had a dream. Drive to the Pennsylvania Poconos to enjoy a winter’s day playing in the snow with his family.
A dream as improbable as it was simple, Bill understood.
He already knew that Bobby’s parents, typical of nearly all the families served by St. Christopher’s, lacked the financial wherewithal to realize even the modest scope of a young man’s dreams.
So he made a few calls.
He promptly arranged an all expenses paid, weekend trip for Bobby and his family to a resort in the Poconos, where he witnessed in a deeply personal way the positive effect that trip would have – not only for Bobby and his family – but for everyone who participated in making his dream come true.
That winter of 1976, Bobby’s was the first of more than 37,000 dreams thus far to be answered by the Sunshine Foundation, a 501(c)(3) wish granting organization that enters its 40th year in service to chronically ill, seriously ill, physically challenged and abused children nationwide – along with their financially challenged families.
Much of the Sunshine Foundation’s success owes to the support of local businesses, and it is hoped that this year the corporate community will continue its enthusiastic patronage of the foundation’s mission by donating products, services or gift certificates. Corporate donors will be represented on all event related, print materials.
This year’s event, celebrating the 40th anniversary, features music by Osceola Arts – plus exciting live and silent auctions, dinner, dancing and dessert.
In 1988, ground was broken on Dream Village, a 22-acre property nestled in northwestern Osceola County – not far from Disney. Today, you’ll find nine fairy-tale themed cottages, a fully equipped and handicap accessible playground, and an Olympic-size swimming pool there. All amenities and activities at Dream Village are designed to be accessible for wheelchairs and other special needs.
Since its opening in 1990, Dream Village has been home base to more than 20,000 special children, whose wish to visit the theme parks of Central Florida was preeminent when asked the simple question: “If you could have one dream, what would it be?”
Children and their families are flown to Orlando – all expenses paid – where they enjoy a welcome respite from the rigors of daily medical treatments back home.
They enjoy Legoland, SeaWorld, Walt Disney World and/or Universal Studios and then return to the magical confines of their fairy tale cottages.
Because dreams are as varied and unique as we are, Sunshine Foundation has created several Dreams programs:
Adopt a Dream provides children with trip requests, personal computers, and celebrity meet and greets.
In an effort to make more dreams come true, Dreamlifts program reaches those kids whose conditions don’t allow them to be away from home more than 24 hours.
As part of its Dreamlift Days program, Sunshine Foundation charters a private plane to take one hundred kids to a Central Florida theme park for a day. Accompanying the children and their families are off duty policemen and fire fighters, who lift kids on and off the plane and serve as park escorts for the day.
You may be wondering what you can do to help.
If you’re interested in joining one of Sunshine Foundation’s 15 all volunteer chapters throughout the U.S., forming your own group, or for more information on how you can donate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 216-396-4770.
More than 83 percent of all donations go directly to Sunshine Foundation children’s programs, earning SF the honor of being the top-rated wish granting charity in the U.S. from charitywatch.org.
Information on how to refer a child, a list of qualifying diagnoses, and other criteria to receive a dream may also be found at the contacts referenced above.
Corporate sponsorships are welcome, of course.
The “Sunshine Reporter” – SFs monthly newsletter – features the testimonials of families, alongside the volunteers, corporate sponsors and participants who made their dream days come true.
For further information on ticket pricing and corporate sponsorship levels, contact www.sunshinefoundation.org/2016gala.