GKTW: An Alternative Winter Break

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Charlie Williams While some were lounging over winter break, Mr. McArthur and a group of 10 students traveled to Florida (where three more students met them) to spend part of their winter break volunteering at Giving Kids The World, a nonprofit resort in Kissimmee, Florida for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The village was founded by Henri Landwirth, a Holocaust survivor, who spent 5 years in Auschwitz and Mauthausen concentration camps. After spending time in the commercial side of the hotel industry and witnessing a child named Amy pass away while planning her trip to Orlando, he decided to give to those families who are unable to spend money on vacations for their chilren—due to medical expenses or the child’s fragile health—a planned, easy vacation. Giving Kids The World offers children and their families a free, week-long vacation with a simple goal—making sure the families have fun—while providing all the necessities their family might need. Inside the village, there is a Gingerbread House Restaurant, the Castle of Miracles, the Ice Cream Palace, Julie’s Safari Theatre, Matthew’s Boundless Playground, and tickets to nearby amusement parks. The village itself is thematic and animated, with hopes of filtering out negativity and distracting families from whatever medical hardships they may be going through.  This was Latin’s fifth time sending a group down to volunteer, but that number will rise to 6 with the upcoming project week trip. This village that Mr. McArthur describes as “magical, bright, and happy” continues to leave people feeling like they have contributed to something bigger than themselves. After his trip over winter break, sophomore Spencer Gunning said that his experience, “really puts it into perspective how lucky we all truly are to go to such an amazing school and have such amazing people in our lives.”  Sophomore Bianca Arriaga, another trip attendee, said, “I’ve learned to appreciate the small things in life. I was given an opportunity to really asses how much privilege I have, even if it’s just the amount of ability I have access to… often times we wee take (this) for granted.” Time and time again, students are not just leaving with a feeling of accomplishment, but they make memories from new friendships that will move with them for the rest of their lives. Highlights of the trip range from the joy Mr. McArthur felt from the girls on the trip making a simple yet delicious s’mores fondue dip one night, to  Spencer’s experience seeing, “a kid named Patrick spelled his name completely wrong on a drawing he did and the next morning I saw him was when I was serving breakfast and he fell on the floor laughing after I did a funny face at him.” These experiences prove that the goal of fun spreads not only to the children vacationing at Giving Kids the World, but it’s infectious for the volunteers. “Giving kids the world gives you the opportunity to make a difference in a kid’s life. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s genuinely what you’re doing when you go” (Bianca Arriaga). Although the village counties to expand to accommodate for more people—today the Village is an 84-acre resort with 168 villa accommodation—they have maintained their sense of community. Students have learned many great lessons on this trip, and see no end to keeping it on the project week options. ]]>