Dream lifts South Okanagan children’s spirits

It makes sense that 10-year-old Matt Stevens is just a little too excited to sleep these nights.

Matt Stevens with his family members Jason

Matt Stevens with his family members Jason

It makes sense that 10-year-old Matt Stevens is just a little too excited to sleep these nights.

On Wednesday, the Grade 4 Wiltse Elementary School student really will be going to Disneyland.

Matt and 71 other kids with a variety of challenges will be winging their way south to Anaheim Cal. as part of the Sunshine Foundation DreamLift to Disneyland.

“Actually he wasn’t really excited until we started showing him pictures and then he got really excited,” said mom Michelle Allin about Matt, who has Apraxia of speech which makes it difficult for him to talk. “Then he got a map and we started looking at YouTube videos so he could decide what rides he wanted to go on.

“Yesterday when his tutor was here he told her that next Wednesday, ‘I’m going to Disneyland,’ clear as a bell.”

The Haunted House ride is at the top of Matt’s list right now, although he added “Peter Pan” was next in line.

After the two-and-bit hour flight from Kelowna to John Wayne International Airport, the group will be bussed to the nearby Magic Kingdom for a full day of all the fun they can handle.

The VIP treatment actually begins for the kids upon arrival when they will be greeted by over 100 welcome committee members.

Among the group will be the volunteers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department who will be the kids companions, guides and ultimately good friends by the end of the day.

With a lot of territory to cover in a short time, through special arrangement and help from the sheriffs, the special guests are often able to get to the front of the line for rides and other activities.

One of the highlights for visitors is the spectacular daily Santa parade and another is a chance to rub shoulders with some of the costumed Disney characters.

At 6 p.m. it’s back on board the buses and the return trip to the airport and the flight back to Kelowna for the by-then weary travellers.

Someone else who is excited about the upcoming adventure is 16-year-old Alix Moody of Summerland who has spina bifida and will likely be using a wheelchair at the park.

“I have been sleeping, but I am really excited,” said the Grade 11 Summerland Secondary student. “I think it will be fun for everybody and it will be nice just to have a day where you can spend it with other people who are going through the same stuff as you.”

The families of both kids had very high praise for the work of the Ontario-based Sunshine Foundation in making their children’s dreams come true in a very sensitive fashion.

“I think this is a really good organization and I think it’s really good they’re trying to help people out,” said Alix.

Sunshine, which has worked in the past with Wendy’s Restaurants, has a new corporate sponsor in Papa John’s International Inc. to make the special trip a reality for kids with severe disabilities or life-threatening illness.

That included a fundraising Dreams for Kids Day at the pizza outlets last April to raise the remaining money needed to make the dream come true.

“It’s an experience that changes the lives of all the children who take part in the adventure,” said Nancy Sutherland, foundation chief executive officer. “Our DreamLifts offer kids an unforgettable day of independence, friendship and adventure.  For many children Sunshine’s DreamLift program is their first plane ride and their first day away from their parents. For some, it is the first time they have been able to travel due to daily medical regimes and treatments.

“A DreamLift is a child-led day of ‘Yes’— as in ‘Yes you can,’  Sunshine Kids’ worlds are opened to endless possibly and magic thanks to our volunteers and supporters.”

This is Sunshine’s 60th DreamLift flight.

 

 

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