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80 children & teenagers from Ontario with severe physical disabilities or life-threatening illnesses were flown to Orlando, Florida for a day of Disney.  The 150 volunteers were told that this was a day of “YES”.  Whether it be cotton candy for lunch, riding Space Mountain 5 times (as long as the children were safe) the answer was YES!  When I was approached to volunteer as their videographer and photographer my answer was also a resounding yes! I’m thrilled to have travelled with and met these wonderful children and captured such a FUN experience for them!

The first thing you need to know is that this day started at 4AM.  In matching t-shirts and hats we all arrived at the Hamilton International Airport eager for the FULL day ahead. Even those checking us in had Mickey Mouse ears on. For some this was their first time on a plane! We had a chartered flight all to ourselves.  

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I knew that this day would be moving but watching the parents say goodbye to their children for the day was downright heart-wrenching! Each child was paired with a volunteer and I know the security line had to be the part that the parents told them what their children needed or wanted for the fifth time.  Saying goodbye for the day is a BIG deal, but I can attest that they were in the best hands.  

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Boarding our plane took effort and organization.  Local firefighters and police were there to help load the children into the plane.  Since this was a chartered flight our seats were assigned based on physical ability to walk.  For instance those in wheelchairs were put closer to the front so that they could be carried to their seats.  While boarding I squished in near the cockpit to capture some of these moments.

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Not only were the people who helped board the plane delightful but they also knew exactly what to do.  I watched and learned that there are several technics to lifting a person and carrying them to their seat. Occupational therapists were on hand to direct and doctors accompanied us for the whole trip.  One of the flight attendants told me that she rearranged her whole month so that she could be a part of this flight.  

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When we landed in sunny Orlando all of the wheelchairs were unloaded and lined up.  Buses were waiting to take us to Disney!  To me, the image below depicts dependence, strength.

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This is by far the biggest group photo I have ever taken! As soon as I said “Okay got it!” you better believe they scattered across the park as quickly as their feet and wheels could take them! 

 

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I spent the first couple of hours with Halle (left) and Dora (right).  Halle’s pink wheelchair has a butterfly on the back and her only rule was to stop wheeling ahead of us!  Dora loves her french fries with ketchup!  Both girls have strong and sweet hearts.  

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We had a Genie fast pass to get on the rides so the lines didn’t hold us back from making the most of the day.  The Jungle Cruise was a fantastic ride for me to get footage of their smiling faces!  I love the way Dora is pointing at the animals in awe!

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I wish that I was able to spend time with everyone but with Disney being such a huge amusement park I joined smaller groups and followed them around for the day!  Next you must meet Madeha and Faith.  They let me know that at one point they went to the same high school.  At school, Faith (right) would ride a motorized scooter and Madhea (left) would hold on to the back of the scooter from her wheelchair.  Down the hallways, as fast as they could and then Madhea would let go!  The best part?  Faith says they never got caught! 

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All of the children & teenagers were given money for souvenirs from the organization.  Faith’s dad had ALSO given her money for souvenirs.  So of course she made sure she spent it ALL.  This girl went home with as many things as possible to make sure she would never forget this trip! 

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The plane ride back was a little quieter than the plane ride there.  A lot of sleeping happened–but not for Faith.  I saw her just before I got off the plane and she let me know that she didn’t sleep a wink!  Me on the other hand?  I was out right after the pizza.   We arrived back at Hamilton International Airport around 11:59pm. I would say we made the most of our day! 

 

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Siblings, mothers, fathers and children reunited.  What a beautiful end to such a fantastic day.  I am incredibly grateful to have been able to experience this! Being such an unforgettable day I made sure to get a shot of myself, camera in hand, on Main Street in front of Cinderella’s castle.

 

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During the day I was asked “How can we get these pictures??” Parents, I want you to be able to see the joy on your children’s faces.  Eva, Faith, Jon, Dora, Halle, Madeha and everyone that was on the trip–I want you to have these photos to remember this day for the rest of your life.  I know that I will.

http://jjmedia.pixieset.com/disneyjjmedia/

At the above link you can download the photos individually as you please for no cost.  The files are large high resolution files so you are free to print and/or post them. When prompted use the download pin: 6829.

Thank you to all of the volunteers, sponsors and Sunshine that made this day possible! Check back for the video coming soon! :)

Yours, Jennifer

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