SHICKSHINNY — The Town Hill United Methodist Church wants everyone to know about a fantastic Florida destination. But it’s not the one with the big-eared mouse.
The Town Hill youth group in June volunteered for a week at Give Kids the World, a nonprofit organization helping children with life-threatening illnesses.
“One of the families said how they love coming here because no one looks at them differently because they have a handicap,” said youth group member Sarah Shaffer who went on the trip with her parents and brother.
She said there was a sign in front of every resort villa that read “welcome home,” greeting families as they arrived to their lodging for the week.
Give Kids the World is run almost entirely by volunteers and ranked by Charity Navigator as one of the most efficient nonprofits in the country, boasting it uses only 8.3 percent of donations for administrative costs. It was founded in 1989 by hotel magnate Henri Landwirth who spent most of his teen years in Nazi concentration camps. The resort, called The Village, is situated between Disney World, Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld.
Families from around the world, identified by groups such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, stay free of charge and get free tickets to see the nearby amusement parks.
Town Hill Church Pastor Bethany Wood said she found The Village while looking for volunteer opportunities near Disney World, hoping to answer the question “How do you instill in people a desire for service?”
The Florida tactic worked, she said. Three non-church members volunteered with them.
“The whole thing is to teach them … that if you do small things, it’s going to change someone’s life,” Wood said.
Shaffer is a sophomore studying to be a teacher at East Stroudsburg University. For her, the trip went deeper than simply stirring oatmeal and serving hot pancakes in the morning. It opened her eyes to human resilience and people’s desire to be happy despite the worst possible prognosis.
“It was almost like these kids knew that this could be the last month of life,” she said. “They’re the more happy ones because they have to enjoy everything they can before it’s gone.”