A dream come true for some special kids
For 35 years, The Sunshine Foundation has been making dreams come true for chronically ill children. This week it made its 91st Dreamlift trip to Walt Disney World.
It was a one-day, fun-filled excursion to Orlando, Florida, and Action News photographer Jason Marracini and I were invited along.
The fun started long before we boarded the plane. 105 children and 67 chaperones all met at Mercer Trenton Airport to begin an exciting fun-filled day at the Magic Kingdom.
The celebration kicked off around 6:00 a.m. with "Tucker," the Scottish band discovered by music mogul L.A. Reid. It has partnered with the Sunshine Foundation.
"We thought we'd come along, play a couple of songs, have some fun and try to get everyone excited before they fly off to Disney," said one band member.
There was dancing with the Phillie Phanatic. Families said their goodbyes, and the escorts helped the kids board the plane.
For most of these children, it will be their first trip to Disney and their first-ever plane ride.
A few hours later we were landing in sunny Florida, greeted by Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers.
The volunteers are crucial to this event. A half-dozen New Jersey State troopers were with us to help with the most physically challenged children.
That includes trooper John Marley, who met his wife on a Dreamlift trip 12 years ago.
"We've been married 12 years, 3 children, one on the way, so this trip means a lot," he said.
On the bus, a girl spots the park entrance. And from the bus, we board the water ferry.
The Magic Kingdom castle looms large ahead of us, as do so many Disney surprises.
Who wouldn't want to get a hug from Cinderella, Belle or Sleeping Beauty?
Outside, they're gearing up for Mickey's Speedway. Fundraisers and donations cover the cost of the travel to Disney, along with three meals, a park ticket and a souvenir.
Many of the parents who make this trip are single moms.
"We've been wanting to come here for a long time, but we havent' had the time or money," said Joshua Garcia. "Sunshine came and helped us."
We took a turn on the Jungle Cruise and joined Moises with his walkie-talkie to check out the river hippos.
The Sunshine Foundation has always served chronically ill children. It opened its eligibility to abused children as well, due to an increase in those with emotional trauma caused by physical and sexual abuse.
Because if anyone need to have a dream come true and smile brought to their face it's a child who has experienced abuse," said Mercer Co. Freeholder Pasquale Colavita.
On this day there were plenty of faces with smiles including those of six students from the New Jersey School for the Dear, who told me using sign language that everyone's favorite ride was Space Mountain!
So after a long day, it was time to head home.
"When they're on the plane going home, they're exhausted," said Cathy DiCostanzo, president of the Mercer County Sunshine Foundation. "We put the mouse ears on them, they're happy, smiling, sleeping. They really have a truly great day!"
And so did we all!
special reports, lisa thomas-laury
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