Dreams do come true.
Just ask the many deserving Penticton and area kids who have had the unique opportunity to travel to “the happiest place on earth,” Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.
What makes this day-long adventure possible for the more than 80 young people between the ages of three and 18 every other year is the annual Wendy’s DreamLift Day.
This year’s fundraiser at the nine Interior restaurants, including Penticton, takes place Wednesday, Jan. 30 from 6 a.m. to closing.
This year’s theme is Refer a Child, where everyone is encouraged to find out just how easy the process is to nominate a child for the trip. This can be done by logging on to www.sunshine.ca and clicking on “dreams.”
Again this year local celebrities, dignitaries and others will be volunteering at Wendy’s throughout the day, with the proceeds going to pay for the DreamLift to Disneyland later this year. The trips are organized through the Interior chapter of the Sunshine Foundation of Canada for kids with severe physical disabilities or life-threatening illnesses.
On DreamLift Day all the proceeds from the sales in the dining room and drive through along with wages from employees, management and owners will be donated to the cause.
“The real thing here is it’s a great cause,” said area partner Todd Lewis, who oversees Wendy’s in Penticton, Kelowna and West Kelowna. “I mean sending a plane full of kids to Disneyland does nothing but bring smiles to everybody’s faces and a little sunshine into people’s lives.
“The big thing is that I’ve found over the years on DreamLift Day is that it’s become not so much a Wendy’s event as a community event, that now I can’t imagine the world without it.”
He admitted being a little overwhelmed by the impact several years ago after participating in his first fundraiser for the chain.
“Seeing the kids who had gone on the trip four or five years ago who came back to volunteer on the day was really something,” said Lewis. “But even the smiles and generosity on that day is nothing compared to the day of the flight. Everyone is just flying.”
According to Lewis, Wendy’s founder, the late Dave Thomas, believed strongly in the importance of his company giving back to the communities it serves. Thomas’ daughter Wendy was in Penticton last year and she echoed her father’s words and philosophy with the many customers who stopped by to have a meal and do their part to contribute.
“This is just part of the responsibility that my father taught us,” she said. “If you become successful you have to give back to the community because we’re all people and we have to help each other at times.”
While the figures for individual outlet aren’t made public, the Peach City always holds its own, according to Lewis, and continues to grow each year. In 2012, the overall figure for the 18 years topped the $1-million mark.
The next flight for the children from the Interior is expected to be at the end of this year.
Like past years, there will be a member of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department helping with the festivities on DreamLift Day. Lt. Mike Toledo will be the special guest in Penticton this year during his first visit to the city.
While in Disneyland the sheriffs act in part as chaperones for the children, and their tireless efforts are one of the main reasons the kids manage to get to the front of the lines for the rides and activities which maximizes what they are able to see and do in the short time they are at the park. Over 100 members of the department donated their time to the cause.
Chase Moog, who got to go on one of the previous flights, described his feelings about the trip this way: “What I enjoyed most was hanging out with all my friends and going on rides. It gave me a special feeling like I was really important.”
Lynn Langille is a vision resource teacher who described many of the children acting like they had a weight removed from their shoulders just by being with others with disabilities.
“They can just have fun and be themselves,” she said. “Many of these kids won’t have the opportunities due to family income or disabilities, but thanks to the Sunshine Foundation and Wendy’s they will have that opportunity.
“It really is a dream come true.”