Our Day With Dreams Take Flight

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The following are two personal narratives by PacMin employees Mallory and Mimi describing their day with Dreams Take Flight. To learn more about Dreams Take Flight and how you can get involved, please visit their website at http://www.dreamstakeflight.ca/.

Mallory McKenzie’s experience

When PacMin offered me the opportunity to participate in Dreams Take Flight’s annual “Magical Memories” day at Disneyland, I was very excited about the prospect. I had heard of DTF a while ago when we donated some models to their organization, and while I knew very little about their mission, I did know that I would be getting the opportunity to spend a day at Disneyland with underprivileged children. Quickly I learned that what DTF gives to these children is so much more than just a day at the park.

Since 1993, the Calgary branch of DTF has been taking special needs children from Calgary and Southern Alberta on their very first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. Many of the children are physically, socially or developmentally challenged and have experienced hardships in their lives that no child should ever have to face. DTF offers a chance for these children to spend one day on a fun-filled adventure to the Magical Kingdom, away from the troubles that may plague them at home. DTF thrives largely because of its close partnership with its sponsors and donors. Almost everything that DTF is able to give to the children is donated to the organization. From the Croc shoes and cowboy hats that both children and volunteers wear, to the flight crew and volunteer’s time (no one is paid for participating in DTF), down to the Boeing 767 used to charter the kids in to their magical adventure (a gift from Air Canada). In addition to donations, DTF fundraises year round to cover the costs associated with the trip to Disneyland.

While my colleague Mimi and I were not able to join the kids on their flight to LA, we did meet them at the Air Canada Cargo Facility where the children were greeted with a cheering crowd, their own paparazzi and the TSA Choir, who sang “It’s a Small World” among other Disney tunes.

As I stood there and watched the children step off the plane, I saw every one of their faces in various states of absolute shock at the warm welcoming they’d received. My group was “Team Minnie” headed by Colleen Cooper, the person in charge of selecting which children take the flight to Disneyland every year, and her husband, Dr. Neil Cooper, the physician who has travelled with DTF since its first flight. Prior to meeting Dr. Neil and Colleen, I was nervous about the prospect of spending the day with six young children with special needs, but the moment I met them, all of those fears were put at ease. Dr. Neil knew each child’s medicinal schedule like the back of his hand, and Colleen had her own schedule so detailed that every minute of our day was accounted for. I knew that I had nothing to worry about except making sure that my child had the best day of his life.

DTF operates on strict 1:1 ratio with all volunteers to ensure that every child gets the attention that he or she needs. My buddy for the day was Seth, one of six, seven year-old children in Team Minnie. Although he promptly fell asleep on the bus ride to Disneyland, he was anything but tired or shy throughout the day. Most of my day was spent chasing him around as he darted in and out of the crowd and cheering him on as he showed off his many break-dancing moves. When we weren’t fighting off the evil emperor Zurg on the Buzz Light Year Ride (his favorite), or searching for buried treasure on Pirates of the Caribbean, we were talking about his upcoming hockey season, his favorite school subjects and what he liked about “the USA” so far.  I also had the opportunity to spend time with the other children in the group, including, Carissa, an adorable little girl who managed to convince me to ride the teacups, even though I have horrible motion sickness. As I pushed her in a wheelchair through the exit gates, she told me that this was the best day of her life.

By the end of the day, Team Minnie had ridden 14 rides, enjoyed a buffet lunch which was donated by Disneyland, had a private meet-and-greet session with a handful of Disney characters, and shopped for goodies on main-street with $50.00 that each child was given so that they could buy something special to bring home with them. Every child left for the day with a bag of souvenirs, a full tummy, and memories that will last them a life time.

At the end of the day, the groups began boarding the plane, most of the kids already asleep from the exhausting day. I had to say goodbye to Team Minnie, and as the plane taxied away from us, the pilot flashed the cabin lights, and the LA volunteers waved their hats in the air, sending the plane off with the same cheers it received upon arrival.

 If I could pin point one thing I’ve taken away from this experience, it would be how humbled I was by the way the entire Dreams Take Flight organization is so selfless and generous to these children. Not once did I hear any of my fellow volunteers gripe about being tired or not wanting to go on a ride—in fact, the sole focus was always on the children and doing whatever it took to make this the best experience they’d ever had. Many of these children have faced such difficulties so early in their lives, and I understand now that the mission of this organization goes so far beyond a simple trip to Disneyland. It’s about bringing joy into these children’s life, wearing them out with excitement and sending them home feeling as if they’ve been king or queen for a day, a sentiment that many of them might otherwise never have the opportunity to experience.

Mimi Montoya’s experience

A few months ago I was privileged to be a part of Dreams Take Flight’s 20th annual trip to Disneyland.  This event is sponsored by businesses all over Canada and the United States.  This year, the Calgary Chapter of Dreams Take Flight invited 142 emotionally, socially or physically challenged children ages 7 to 12 to come along for this journey of a lifetime.

Growing up in California came with its many privileges, one of which was the fact that Disneyland was only a few minutes away.  As soon as I had my own car and my own spending money, I bought myself a Disney annual pass which I renewed almost every year.  Disneyland was a place I could go to hang out with friends, to pass the time, or to just see the newest show or attraction.  Throughout the years, I have come to know Disneyland backwards and forwards; I know where to get the best food, how to get through the lines quicker, and which rides are worth the wait.

So, needless to say, when I was given the opportunity to represent PacMin and take some underprivileged children to Disneyland for the day, I was very eager to accept.  My coworker Mallory and I were at first very excited, and of course very proud that we would be partaking in something that will make a huge impact on the lives of these children.  Then, as the day approached, we became very nervous.  Nervous because we didn’t know what to expect and we didn’t know how these kids would respond to us. What if they didn’t like us? What if we lose them at Disneyland?

When I saw the DTF children descend from the Air Canada plane, my heart melted and all of my worries disappeared.  My “Team Nemo” consisted of six 11-year old children:  Sierra, Ronald, Sana, Michael, Unique and Krystopher.  Because our kids were older, their main request was that we go on all the scarier, faster, more advance rides.  Most of them seemed fearless while some were scared and hesitant to follow the pack.  The girls, Sierra, Sana, and Unique became fast friends and spent the majority of the day skipping around arm in arm.  They were the cheerleaders and helped to get the boys onto all of the scary rides, constantly reassuring them that it was going to be a blast.  Krystopher was very aloof, he didn’t talk much but when he did, he made everyone laugh.  Ronald and Michael wanted to sit out on many of the rides but were easily persuaded (mostly with tasty treats) into getting on with the rest of us.  In the end, Michael was the one that requested we get on those rides again and again.

These children lived a very different life than most their age; this gave them a different view on life.  On any other day, they may be jaded by the tough deck of cards they’ve been dealt in life.  But that did not matter when they were at Disneyland, for the magic of Disneyland had helped them forget the harsh realities they have back in Calgary.  And maybe for the first time in a long time, these kids were truly having fun. Their infectious laughter and enthusiasm had made us adults forget about the burdens we were carrying around with us as well.  We had taken on the ingenuous way of looking at life, things just seemed simpler.

After getting thrown around on dozens of rides like the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain, and Indiana Jones (some more than once), getting our fingers sticky with cotton candy, making up new silly lyrics for the tune of “It’s a Small World,” taking 370+ pictures, and laughing at all the silly things that our team leader said, it was time for us to say goodbye.

As we unloaded the buses and ushered our kids onto the aircraft, the adults lined up on the tarmac waving our cowboy hats in the air as tears filled our eyes.  There was no doubt that this day had made an impact on the children’s lives but I don’t think we expected it to affect us the way it did.

Up to that day, I thought I knew everything about Disneyland, but in fact I did not. Since going to Disneyland is quite a common occurrence in my life, I’m sad to say that it was something I may have taken for granted.  This experience with Dreams Take Flight has really opened my eyes to what Disneyland means to the children, especially to those who cannot afford to go there or are physically incapable of leaving their home.  With Dreams take Flight, these children were not only given gifts of monetary value, they were given memories that’ll last a lifetime.

Thank you Lucille, John, Earl, the DTF team, and the many sponsors, for giving us one of the happiest days of our lives.