It’s almost 3 p.m. the Friday after my first week of interning at Give Kids The World.
On Monday, I entered the Village completely unsure of what I was getting myself into. Armed only with general knowledge of the Village, I had yet to see or experience it. As I entered through the front gate, I knew I had embarked on what I felt would be a magical experience in my life.
Illuminated with hope from just from my initial tour of the Village, I couldn’t wait to learn more about this special place. The vibrant colored villas beamed under the Sunshine State’s rays. The polka dotted mushroom-roofed Enchanted Carousel promised giggles and smiles, and the Castle of Miracles twinkled with the stars of wishes cast by every child battling a life-threatening illness who came to stay at the resort.
Everywhere I turned I was mesmerized.
However, what stood out the most to me in this whimsical land of happiness and adventure was everyone’s energy. Not only did every employee and volunteer greet me with a smile and conversation, but so did every wish child and their family too. After one day in the Village, I, a 20-year-old college student, knew I had found a joy in waking up at 7 a.m. and going to work.
After learning a bit more about the founding history of Give Kids The World, I immediately started seeing the Village in a different way. Jolted by the knowledge that the founder of Give Kids The World, Henri Landwirth, had been taken to several different concentration camps from the ages of 13 to 18, I tried to wrap my mind around how a man who’d suffered so much evil and hatred could build a place so rooted in compassion and acceptance.
Less than two months ago, I’d studied abroad in Germany. Part of my itinerary on this trip was to visit Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp established. I explored the camp for two and a half hours in complete silence, trying to grasp the horrors and tragedies that had occurred within those bare walls and electrocution fences. That experience alone will be one I will carry for the rest of my life.
I found it mind boggling that the horrid grounds I walked through in Dachau, were the same grounds where Henri Landwirth fought for survival. I realized then that the Village was so much more than just a fun place to frolic through and play games. Henri had founded a world filled with hope and inspiration. It is a place to create your own happiness and find a new light in life.
From first experiencing the horrors that took place within the walls that confined so many prisoners of the Holocaust, it is quite bizarre to enter into a land filled with lollipops, magic trees, pirates, princesses, and most importantly, smiles.
Yet it is even more bizarre to know that everything I am surrounded by in the Village is a direct result from the harsh realities of one man being held prisoner in not just Dachau, but four other concentration camps as well. Knowing this magnifies my experience at Give Kids The World and causes me to cherish and appreciate the Village in a substantial way.
The spirit of the Village sends a strong message to everyone. No matter what struggle you may be facing, there is still happiness and hope in the world. Give Kids The World was founded on this principle, and it is the goal of everyone here to help every wish child and their families to fulfill their wishes and to rekindle the spirit of every visitor who comes to this incredible place of inspiration.
Additional contribution from Jenny Wells