Tommy Head, founder and CEO of Childhood Cancer Society and author of Adventure Ted: Night at the Enchanted Theme Park recently brought five families to Give Kids The World Village as a new wish granting partner. However, Tommy’s path to making a difference started long before our partnership began. He recently shared his story with us, check it out:
When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with ITP, a severely low platelet count which required frequent trips to Hackensack University Medical Center. This experience instilled in me at a young age the desire to one day help others and the future children in my community to overcome their challenges. At 12-years-old I began acting professionally and used the proceeds from my first commercial to purchase gaming consoles and videos games for the children at Hackensack University Medical Center, to enjoy while receiving treatment. The positive impact on their morale was evident, and 4 years later I founded Childhood Cancer Society (CCS). CCS is a volunteer run 501(C)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to help families battling childhood cancer with medical bills, transportation costs, as well as provide gifts and wish grants to help foster a mindset that is conducive to healing.
In 2007 I went on to NYU Stern undergrad to study finance and marketing to learn how to increase our impact. After graduating, I found myself in the financial services industry, while still maintaining Childhood Cancer Society and continuing to help families part time. I became an active member in the Rotary Club of New York and am now the youngest President Elect in the club’s history. After years of working with this diverse group of charitable professionals, I knew that I wanted to eventually dedicate my life to helping others full time. Their tremendous impact in my life largely led me to find the inspiration to found Adventure Ted LLC.
For over 15 years I have been helping/supporting families battling childhood cancer through Childhood Cancer Society. Our emblem and primary fundraising product was a Teddy Bear with our company name on it as well as the phrase “Kids Are Beary Special.” Over the years we would sell bears at events, but generally, people did not buy the bears separate of the events. Over time I formed the opinion that this was because parents wanted to support our cause in the moment, however, they did not want to buy something for their kids that had the word “cancer” on it. So, I wanted to create something that had all the intrinsic value of helping children (with cancer or other challenges) but that did not include the word on the teddy bear. It was in a moment back in 2013 when I had the thought to combine the two words “Adventure” & “Ted” into an Instagram handle. The thought was that Adventure Ted would go around to different places and generate awareness for childhood cancer in a fun way. Unfortunately, that on its own never really took off, but served as a foundation for a larger idea years later.
Over the years of working with children battling childhood cancer, I noticed a mindset in kids who were generally able to look past the days challenges and look forward to the little blessings in each day. This is true of adults as well. When there is a critical illness, you tend to find an appreciation for the little blessings. In the case of these children, they find adventures in even something as arduous as going to the hospital. The Child Life Departments do a great job of facilitating this by having a library of toys, books, games, activities, etc. At one point a few years ago, as I went to New York Presbyterian to visit my father recovering from a liver transplant, I had the same realization as many of these kids. “I’m going to the hospital, which isn’t ideal; however, I get to see my dad who is alive, which is a huge blessing! We’re going to have a meal together, chat, play some board games, and that’s what it’s all about.” In the presence of this thought, it all clicked for me at once into the single phrase: “See the adventure in all that you do.” That would eventually become the trademarked motto of Adventure Ted.
The idea of Adventure Ted is much larger than a children’s book, it is a brand of positivity dedicated to helping children and their families overcome challenges. However, we needed something to introduce the brand and the book was the best way to tie it all together. For now we are developing our brand and raising awareness to our cause through the book and website. In the short term the website has a store connected to Amazon where we have the book and a few items from the story available for sale. All the items are intended to help children and their families feel courageous, hopeful, inspired, and of course adventurous. My future dream for the brand is to achieve licensing deals with companies that are looking to add a brand like ours into their portfolio, which will allow me to enter many markets all at once including games, apparel, and eventually even a cartoon series. These additional revenue sources would allow us to expand our social mission of helping many more children and their families.
Centered around the children’s book hero Adventure Ted, Adventure Ted LLC is a social brand of positivity created to inspire children to use their imaginations in order to overcome challenges. Its mission is to help children, and their families, cope with childhood obstacles in lessons learned through its children’s book series, apparel lines, and toys. In addition to inspiring children and their parents, Adventure Ted LLC is a social enterprise that donates its profits to childhood related causes.
In February 2019 Childhood Cancer Society received a wish grant request for a nine-year-old little girl with a very bleak prognosis of neuroblastoma who wanted to go to Disney World. Her name is Angelina and she is one of the most remarkable children I have ever met. At the time she had just started a very aggressive radiation therapy but we hoped she would be in a place that she might be able to enjoy a Disney vacation in March 2019. I called all the hotels in the area and scoured google for opportunities to make it as special a vacation as I possibly could. I felt she (and her family) deserved the vacation of a lifetime and I was going to move Heaven & Earth to make it happen.
In my pursuit, I came across a representative of the most amazing place on Earth. Give Kids The World. This woman’s name was Jean Lowe and she runs the Compassion Program at Give Kids The World Village. I explained to her who I was and what I was trying to accomplish for this little girl. I knew my mission really resonated with her, as she immediately guided me to the Village where they fast tracked us into their wish granting program, and Childhood Cancer Society became one of their newest Wish Granting Partners. It was the happiest coincidence of my life. I mean, what are the chances of producing a children’s book about a sick boy who goes on an adventure in an enchanted theme park with a superhero teddy bear in the same year you’re your charity becomes an official wish granting partner of Give Kids The World, the crown jewel of theme park wish granting experiences? It felt like destiny.
On our first call, Jean Lowe explained to me that for a modest admin fee at Give Kids The World Village our families would stay at a beautiful resort, where each day they would receive a gift, celebrate a different holiday, enjoy all of Central Florida’s best theme parks, and much more. It was so amazing that it didn’t feel real, so I had to see this place for myself. The week we sent Angelina, I went to Give Kids The World for a tour with Jean herself, and it was all very true and possibly even understated! I have NEVER seen money better spent in my entire life. When you are there, you can expect to see children with life threatening ailments running, skipping, and scooting around the resort ice cream in hand rambling on excitedly about the day’s exhilarating adventure.
The day after my tour I visited Angelina and her family at the park. To give some context, I had last seen her in Sloan Kettering, very sick and preparing to embark on a very aggressive MIBG therapy. During this excruciating therapy, her mother kept everyone up to date through her Facebook group Angelina’s Army, and there was a moment in the process that I’ll never forget. Angelina was vomiting, with a fever, and shaking in an isolation chamber. To see this little girl, with the most amazing and bright spirit, suffering where her mother wasn’t permitted to enter the chamber to comfort her… There are no words. Somehow Angelina’s mom was able to keep her Give Kids The World trip a secret through all of this hardship. This immeasurable resolve allowed her to give Angelina the greatest surprises of her life when she found out that their seemingly ordinary trip to visit family in Texas was actually about to be the greatest theme park vacation of all time! Fast forward a few months, and I got to see Angelina post MIBG therapy, skipping to the front of the lines at Florida’s greatest theme parks, eating ice cream on demand, and even choosing to volunteer as an ice cream scooper one of her days at Give Kids The World. It was at that moment I knew I had found something extraordinarily special and was not only going to send a lot more families down for this healing experience, but also help contribute to this amazing place in any way possible.
My intentions when writing the book were that profits from Adventure Ted would always support childhood related causes, it is on our website and on the inside flap of the book itself. The work that Village does improves the mindsets of children and their families in such a way, that all words fall short. It is simply amazing! Since founding Childhood Cancer Society, it has always been my dream to be able to fulfill wishes at the level that Give Kids The World enables us to. In some ways, this dream is probably the predominant inspiration I had in creating Adventure Ted: Night At The Enchanted Theme Park. I found it so serendipitous that in 2019 we received Angelina’s request to go to Disney, found the Village in our search to piece together the perfect Disney wish, became a wish granting partner of Give Kids The World, all after writing a children’s book the year prior that takes place at a theme park that would release later in 2019. They say the universe makes no mistakes and this honestly felt meant to be.
Then after seeing Give Kids The World myself, I couldn’t agree more with Henri Landwirth, no critically sick child should go through this life without having the Village experience. It was with that in mind that I decided to donate the profits of the book to fund Childhood Cancer Society’s Give Kids The World wish grant budget. We had an Adventure Ted Launch Party in November 2019 at a venue called Vandal NYC, part of the Tao Hospitality Group. An awesome place that hosted an exceptional crowd! Additionally, we invited the 5 families (our first team of Give Kids The World Adventurers) to join us at Vandal NYC and their children found out that they were going on an all-expense paid theme park vacation at Give Kids the World. The reactions were priceless!
When I saw Angelina having her wish experience, the only thing that might have made it even better was if we sent a group of kids together. My thought was that the combination of children and their families who had a shared hardship, being surprised to find out that they were going to Give Kids The World together on the best theme park experience vacation there is, and then sharing this experience together would at least equal an awesome time, but could ultimately create a lifelong friendship and support group.
In September 2019 I had the pleasure of meeting Pamela Landwirth at the Annual Wish Giving Association Conference (6 months after sending our first child down, Angelina). Her excitement and enthusiasm for the park shines through in every word that she says, the day we met was no different. After her presentation, Jean Lowe introduced me to Pam. I explained to her my idea of the Adventure Ted project and using the book launch to fund a group of families to come the week before Christmas in December. She loved it! Amy McClintock was extremely accommodating and reserved 5 Villas near each other so that our families could be together, and less than 4 months later they had the best theme park vacation together! The project was so fulfilling and successful that this past December I decided to leave my career in finance to focus on it fulltime. Each day since has been an exciting adventure!
I had the privilege to read my book at the Village during two story times. The Tuesday before Christmas Eve and the one on Christmas Eve. My parents joined me on the Christmas Eve reading and we all agreed, it was the most special and heartwarming Christmas Eve we had ever had. For both story times, my favorite moment was after the reading getting to meet everyone while signing their copies of the book. Seeing the joy and excitement of each child and their family face to face made me feel that I made the impact that I was hoping for. The vibe was phenomenal. This is a Christmas Eve that I will cherish forever.