“Walt Disney World, here we come!” On Tuesday, April 24, 2018, approximately 80 kids with The Sunshine Foundation of Canada will be participating in the 63rd Sunshine DreamLift. Taking off from The London International Airport, a plane full of children from London, St. Thomas, Stratford and region will experience a life-changing adventure on a whirlwind trip to Disney and back home in just one day.
A Sunshine DreamLift is a day of opportunities for local children who live with severe physical disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. It is often a child’s first time away from their parents, a first plane ride, and a day to discover their potential and explore the magic of Disney.
What is the DreamLift experience like?
Alarms ring in the rooms of young Sunshine DreamLift participants. It’s a great change for many kids to be waking up extra early with adventure on the horizon as opposed to medical appointments, hospital visits, or an ordinary school day.
Off to the airport kids go with passports, parents, and a Sunshine bag in tow. Once they meet up with their group (1-2 more kids and volunteers) they line up with their boarding passes and wave goodbye to their parents.
A sprout of independence grows as kids navigate airport security and move into the boarding room. With maps, games, and colouring books in hand, the boarding room fills with possibilities of the rest of the day ahead. This is when the magic really begins. How did Sunshine know to pair a child with other thrill seekers who have a mission to conquer Space Mountain eight times in a row? How did they pair a kid with a new friend who knows all of the Frozen songs and a volunteer who makes worries go away when he talks like Olaf? Who knows what more kids will learn about each other and the friendships that will grow.
Wheelchairs are first in line. Kids who require assistance are carefully lifted into the strong arms of volunteer fire fighters and police officers and carried onto the plane and into their seats. The rest of the airplane begins to fill and before you know it, the Captain announces that the flight is ready for takeoff: “Destination Disney!” Giggles, gasps and cheers echo through the plane as the feeling of flying is exciting and new to many of the kids.
Before you know it, the wheels touch down in Orlando and Sunshine is met by the American Customs officials to check travel documents and wish everyone a fun day in Disney. Greeting Sunshine on the tarmac and helping kids debark the plane are Orange County Sherriff officers, the DEA and Federal Air Marshalls who are also matched up with the groups. They play a key role in providing support, help with lifting, and knowing all of the best Disney secrets. Kids and their volunteers head onto shuttle busses and make their way to The Magic Kingdom excited to continue their adventure!
A ferry hop across the lagoon and soon groups begin to disperse across the park: some aim for Splash Mountain while others hold autograph books ready for Mickey’s signature. Volunteers know that a Sunshine DreamLift is a day of yes: Cotton candy for breakfast? “Yes!” Sparkly hair like Cinderella? “Yes!” The kids get to lead the day, be in charge of themselves and by doing so, gain confidence.
The day in Disney wraps up at the front of the park with a giant group photo full of joy, smiles, and a sense of achievement. From there, the highlights rewind as groups head back on the ferry and ride the shuttle bus to the airport. Groups wave goodbye to the officers who had been so kind as they make their way though security and onto the plane.
The spirit on the plane ride home is quite different than the early morning start: the exhilaration of the once-in-a-lifetime activities begins to fade and row by row, eyes get heavy with sleep. But just as the plane comes to a safe landing, a round of applause travels across the airplane. Excitement is reignited and pride beams as the young dreamers realize they have accomplished a magical day of possibilities and “Yes I can moments.”
Parents and caregivers eagerly await as kids begin to enter the welcome area. Cheers from the welcoming crew of volunteers add one last Sunshine smile across the faces of the accomplished dreamers and hugs and kisses from waiting parents seem to be endless.
We can’t wait for our next Sunshine DreamLift adventure to begin!