Coffee with: Dreams come true
It's every little one's dream to visit Disneyland, but for some children living with illness or poverty it's one that is difficult for parents to fulfill.
That's where the charity Dreams Take Flight comes in, a national non-profit organization that takes children to Disneyland and Disneyworld for one day.
The charity began 20 years ago consisting of Air Canada employees and has since grown to provide the trip-of-a-lifetime once a year to physically, mentally or socially challenged children.
Tsawwassen's Melissa Hance, president of Dreams Take Flight's Vancouver chapter, took the trip Oct. 16 with 125 Lower Mainland children. They draw from a pool of children selected from B.C. Children's Oncology ward (cancer), the B.C. Down Syndrome Society, the Deaf and Blind Association of B.C., and children from low-income schools throughout the Lower Mainland.
"A lot of children have never been alone before, let alone on a plane," says Hance.
The kids arrive at the YVR aircraft hanger at the crack of dawn and split into 25 groups of five children. They're given a full outfit so team leaders and escorts can easily keep track of them throughout the day.
After a two and a half hour flight, they arrive in Los Angeles at 8:30 a.m., greeted by members of the LA police and fire departments, and the Transportation Safety Authority choir.
Five coach buses are standing by to transport them to Disneyland and their world famous amusement rides.
"We get special treatment from Disney so we don't have to wait in any lines," explains Hance.
After some wild rides, they arrange for the "Fab Five" of Donald, Goofy, Mickey, Minnie and Pluto to come and meet the kids while they're eating lunch .
Then it's off to the rides again before everybody meets back at 5 p.m., where they are given 30 Disney dollars to go on a shopping spree.
"The kids we get are so unselfish and deserving," says Hance. "They go out buying for their families or friends."
When they finally return back to the plane, each kid gets a goodie bag from Mattel and a fleece blanket. Within 10 minutes on the plane, everyone is fast asleep.
"That's when I know we're going home. The plane is quiet," chuckles Hance.
The experience can make a huge impression on these youngsters.
At a recent sponsor appreciation night in Richmond, one child who took the trip wanted to give back.
In lieu of presents for her eighth birthday, Bhavyn Sandhu from Surrey asked for money and then donated all $220 to Dreams Take Flight.
"She wanted another kid to enjoy the kind of day she had.
"The first few years of being involved I knew we were doing a good thing but I was able to remain emotionally in control," says Hance.
After giving birth to her son in 2010 she says she realizes even more how much it means to make a child happy.
Hance says the trip is only made possible by the donation of the Boeing 767 for the day by Air Canada, $40,000 worth of fuel from Chevron, and numerous other sponsors.
The payoff is worth it.
"Being able to bring smiles to 125 children and giving them the opportunity of a lifetime they wouldn't ordinarily have is wonderful," says Hance.