PHILADELPHIA – The University of Pennsylvania softball team took its annual trip to central Florida in early March, playing 13 games in 10 days in the Sunshine State. In addition to participating in the UCF Spring Fling and the Rebel Spring Games, the team also had a bit of off time.
Most people would assume that a group of student-athletes would use their off time in Orlando to go to tourist attractions such as Sea World, Universal Studios or Disney World. The Penn players would eventually find time for all that, but they had something else they chose to do first.
“Give Kids The World” is an organization that partners more than over 160 wish-giving organizations to ensure that children with terminal diseases receive the same opportunities to attend the theme parks in central Florida like everyone else. Unfortunately, most families with terminally ill children have to deal with high medical bills, and travel plans can often become tedious and expensive. GKTW created “The Village” in 1989, a seven-acre resort comprised of more than 140 Villas. Children and their families are welcomed into the village, sometimes with less than 24 hours notice, and the GKTW staff makes sure that the guests receive “memorable, magical, cost-free experiences.”
“If a little kid with a life-threatening illness wishes to be a princess or meet a superhero, the wish-granting organization flies them into Give Kids The World,” said quad-captain Elysse Gorney. “They stay the week at the resort, they get everything paid for and their wish granted.” Gorney and her family stayed in The Village in 1995 when her brother, who suffered from muscular dystrophy, had a wish to go to Disney World.
In most cases, these children spend most of their lives in hospital beds and do not get the same experiences as everyone else. In addition to granting wishes, GKTW also plans different activities within The Village so that the children can participate in all types of experiences they would otherwise not have a chance to enjoy. One of those events specifically is Halloween, which recurs weekly. The Quakers teamed up with GKTW off the field to help give the children a chance to celebrate the fall festival.
“They might not get a Halloween every year… so we‘re creating this amazing experience for them to help inspire them, to give them hope to keep fighting … just create this memory for them where, for once, they can forget about their illness and enjoy life and being a kid,” said Gorney.
The players facilitated different stations throughout the night such as face-painting and superhero mask-making. Some of the student-athletes were also planted around the area at the candy stations, handing sweets to all the trick-or-treaters. From clowns to witches, Wonder Woman to a trio of ballerinas, the Quakers made sure the children had the experience of a lifetime.
Gorney believes that she and her teammates helped the children at The Village embrace one of GKTW’s mottos, “happiness inspires hope.” The junior feels that, as student-athletes from Penn, her team is in the advantageous situation of being able to give back and help provide these children with cherished life experiences.
“Although we are Division I athletes and we are working toward an Ivy League championship, there’s also a bigger picture,” Gorney said. “We have an opportunity to help promote change for other people and make magical memories for these families.”