This article first appeared in the Owensboro Messenger Inquirer on Jan. 8, 2017.
By Bobbie Hayse Messenger-Inquirer
For some, serving the less fortunate puts things into perspective
After a New Year’s Eve party in Kissimmee, Florida, that Kentucky Wesleyan College students have hosted for the past three years, Matt Ruark watched parents filming their sick child, who was dancing alone on the floor with some glow sticks, at the Give Kids The World resort.
Ruark, the associate director of admissions at KWC, was chaperoning at the 79-acre, nonprofit resort with 12 KWC students and another administrator as part of the college’s Sophomore Experience service program that incorporates volunteering and giving back.
He said that moment on New Year’s Eve was special to him because he knew the parents were creating a lasting memory they would cherish for the rest of their lives.
And that’s the kind of place Give Kids The World is, said Sylvia Oliande, the organization’s public relations manager.
Give Kids The World began in central Florida in 1986 as a way to collaborate with wish-granting organizations to provide week-long, cost-free vacations for children with life-threatening illnesses, as well as their families, Oliande said.
When children are eligible for wish-granting organizations, they are eligible for GKTW, she said.
The Village and resort campus is a place to stay, eat, and play for a week. Some children travel to Disney World via a wish-granting organization, and in those instances, GKTW provides transportation to and from the airport, as well as any of the theme parks in the vicinity.
Oliande said that GKTW serves about 8,000 families a year, and since its inception, has helped 150,000.
“We rely very heavily on volunteers to help us provide that magic for them during their stay,” she said.
There are about 1,600 volunteer shifts to fill on a weekly basis, and that is what the Kentucky Wesleyan students were doing from Dec. 29 – Jan. 2.
For two students, Morgan Montgomery, 20, and David Leix, 20, both of Owensboro, the days they spent donating their time in the resort’s food court and game rooms will become some of their most-memorable moments, they said.
Leix said that the experience was humbling and eye-opening for him, in that it put a lot of life’s problems into perspective. Montgomery agreed, saying that “the things that I stress over on a day-to-day basis does not compare to the stress that these families have.”
Becca McQueen, the KWC associate dean of students, was the other chaperone on the trip. McQueen’s first experience with GKTW happened several years ago when she volunteered there with another organization. When she came to KWC, she knew she wanted to figure out a way to incorporate the volunteering experience on the campus.
The school’s Sophomore Experience delves into the campus’ larger effort to begin social- and service-learning, she said.
The school rents a house off of the resort property, and when student volunteers arrive, they undergo an orientation, take a tour of the resort and learn its history.
“Then we sat down and talked about ways we could bring this experience back to Owensboro,” she said.
At the end of each day, students convened to process the day’s events. She said one of the things she heard most from them was that “one small gesture can mean a huge thing for somebody else.”
The group talked about attitude, influence and how positivity can go a long way, she said.
“People who say Disney World is the happiest place on earth have never been to Give Kids The World,” she said. “This is the most-joyful place ever. For a week, families don’t have anything to worry about. It’s just about enjoying each other and that time they have together.”
Students also came home with a heightened sense of wanting to give back to the community. Montgomery said the experience made her want to work with children and families in the Owensboro and Daviess County area.
“Before this trip I had done community service here and there, but this experience doesn’t compare to anything I’ve ever done in my life,” Leix said. “It makes me want to branch out and help other people.”
For those interested in volunteering locally, there exists an organization that seeks to make those initiatives easier. Volunteer Owensboro is a nonprofit, formerly known as Help Someone Inc. It began six years ago when Randy Lanham and Wayne Morris saw that there was a need in this community to allow individuals who wish to volunteer easier access to do so.
On the Volunteer Owensboro website, there is a list and contact information for area nonprofits, their events and opportunities for individuals to serve. Also available for those seeking to serve is Club Volunteer, a group of 20 people who serve at various non-profit locations week-to-week, Lanham said.
That’s a way for people to “walk in the shoes of a volunteer for a day,” he said, and spotlight the nonprofits.
Club Volunteer is available for people 12 years old and older, though 12-to 17-year-olds must have a parent or guardian present at all times. It’s a free program and a background check is required for all club members, but that is also free.
For more information about Club Volunteer, or other work Volunteer Owensboro does for the community, or to see the list of nonprofits, visit volunteerowensboro.com.
Bobbie Hayse, [email protected], 270-691-7315, Twitter: @BobbieHayseMI
Kentucky Wesleyan Students volunteer at Give Kids the World Village
Click here to see the 14 News video coverage of this story.