Magic comes true with Dreamlift to Disneyland

Vernon’s Keegan Meise receives a special button from Remoun Tadrous, an Orange County sheriff, at John Wayne Airport Tuesday during the Dreamlift flight to Disneyland. - Richard Rolke/Morning Star
Vernon’s Keegan Meise receives a special button from Remoun Tadrous, an Orange County sheriff, at John Wayne Airport Tuesday during the Dreamlift flight to Disneyland.
— image credit: Richard Rolke/Morning Star

Keegan Meise and Mitchell Kopytko didn’t let a visit to Disneyland prevent a little collaboration.

In fact, as soon as the 12-year-olds met volunteer chaperone Kathryn Smith, they knew she was going on Splash Mountain whether she wanted to or not.

“I want to see her get soaking wet,” said Meise, who attends Vernon’s Okanagan Landing Elementary.

In fact, much of Tuesday’s Sunshine Foundation’s Dreamlift Flight to the Magic Kingdom revolved around Smith and expanding her comfort zone.

“I have to keep up with them,” said Smith, a nurse at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital.

More than 50 children with severe physical disabilities or life-threatening illnesses experienced a whirlwind, six-hour tour of Disneyland Tuesday.

The day started off bright and early with families arriving at the Kelowna International Airport at 4:30 a.m. The plane took off at about 8 a.m. and landed in Anaheim at 11:30 a.m., with buses then transporting them to Disneyland until a 6:30 p.m. departure.

And with such a tight timeline, every minute counted.

Kopytko, who attends Kamloops’ Aberdeen Elementary, frequently would start rolling away in his wheelchair as a way to get his group moving.

And with previous visits to Disneyland under his belt, he knew which rides were the best and the culinary treats to experience.

“You don’t know what a churro is?” he said to a reporter when inquired about the fried pastry.

At the same time, other groups were making their way around the legendary attraction.

For Rossland’s Ava Charbonneau Kidd, the highlight was the Small World ride, which features dolls singing and waving.

“It’s sparkly,” she said from beneath her tiger-painted face.

For Eva Pavan, of Nakusp, standing in line was worth the wait at the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

“I loved going under the water,” she said.

Isabella Romei, a 12-year-old Lake Country resident, beams when she talks about Splash Mountain.

“I got all wet,” she said.

And that’s also what happened to Smith once Kopytko and Meise convinced her to get aboard the boat that careens down a 53-foot drop.

But Smith’s involvement came at a price. If she got wet, the boys had to promise to visit some Disneyland princesses.

“We’ve got a runner,” yelled Remoun Tadrous, with the Los Angeles Police Department and chaperone, as Meise bolted from the entrance to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Jasmine. Kopytko also tried a disappearing act.

But eventually, the boys fulfilled their promise to Smith and they headed off to the Matterhorn for a third time.

Along with Smith, the boys’ other escort was Brock Syrnyk, a Kelowna International Airport firefighter, who has been on the flight twice before.

“I originally wanted to see what it’s like and it’s great to see how happy they are. More people should see how this (trip) affects the kids’ lives,” he said.

Orange Country sheriffs are a fixture during the Dreamlift Flight as they act as special ambassadors for the children.

“The kids are the ones doing it for us,” said sheriff Ed Delgado of the special bond created for the day.

All of the funds for the trip were raised during the annual Wendy’s Dreamlift Day events at the regional Wendy’s.

“You see the pictures and hear about it and then you come here,” said Ken Park, Wendy’s Southern Interior owner, who was taking part in his first flight to Disneyland Tuesday.

“You can feel the excitement.”

Mary Dobslaff, a Wendy’s employee, has worked during the fundraisers at the Vernon restaurant for years, but on Tuesday, she got to go to Disneyland and spend time with Maiya Friesen, 10, of Kamloops.

“Coming to Disneyland was the icing on the cake. I get to see what I have worked on,” said Dobslaff.

Eventually, the kids got back on the bus, headed to the airport and headed back to Kelowna. There, they shared stories with enthusiastic parents and siblings.

But as they headed their respective ways, there was no question that these youth had made an impression on those who had shared their day.

“You get attached to them pretty good,” said Syrnyk.









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