Make-A-Wish is a 501 nonprofit organization founded in the United States that creates life-changing wishes for children with a critical illness between the ages of two and 18 years of age, at the time of referral.
One Ripley Middle School student recently received his wish granted by the organization.
Levi Collins, the 15-year-old son of Chad and Kristabelle Collins of Kenna, suffers from epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism, and vision issues – he is considered legally blind. Collins was referred to the Make-A-Wish program by staff at Ripley Middle School following a seizure he had during school one day.
“It was the first one he had had at the middle school,” Kristabelle said. “It really shook up the staff and they felt bad for him.”
Not long after his referral, the Collins family received a visit from Jo Beth Smith with the Charleston chapter of the Make-A-Wish organization. She met with the Collinses and asked what Levi liked and what type of wish he would want if granted.
There are five major categories to the Make-A-Wish program: I wish to go, I wish to be, I wish to meet, I wish to have, and I wish to give. Levi’s wish was to go to Walt Disney World in Florida.
“He loves to go places, so we knew he would want to go somewhere,” Kristabelle said. “We had to give her some dates or months we thought we would be able to go.”
Not long after Smith’s visit, Collins received the surprise of his life while he was at school. He was called to the office then escorted outside where a UPS truck was located with balloons and a package specifically for him. Upon opening the package, he was informed that his wish was being granted and he along with his family, would be going to Walt Disney World. Collin was then taken on a ride in the UPS truck and provided with an UPS bag containing souvenirs from the experience.
According to Collins’ parents, he loves the UPS truck so the surprise reveal made it extra special.
In May, the Collinses took their one-week “trip of a lifetime” to Walt Disney World where they were welcomed by volunteers and staff at the Give Kids The World Village.
The Give Kids The World Village is an 84-acre resort in Central Florida that provides week-long, cost-free vacations to children with critical illnesses and their families.
The Village partners with the community to provide children and their families fully-furnished villas, transportation, tickets to theme parks, meals, daily entertainment, and more during their entire stay.
“The Village was all about the kids,” Chad said. “Most of, if not all of, the workers at the Village were volunteers. They were there because they wanted to be and that made a difference in the way the Village compared to the actual Parks.”
There was an ice cream shop in the Village that encouraged the kids to eat ice cream at any time of the day, even at breakfast, Kristabelle noted.
“Levi had 25 milkshakes and two Coke floats during the trip,” Chad said.
The Collinses visited both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios while in Florida. The Make-A-Wish organization provided family t-shirts for each day of their stay.
“We tried Magic Kingdom first, with the castle and all that,” Kristabelle said. “We were there a few hours and they were begging to go back to the Village.”
They then decided to tour Hollywood Studios where they saw Toy Story Land, all the characters from “Toy Story,” and were able to ride the Dash rollercoaster. Collins was able to see the Toy Story soldiers marching down the road, which he thought was pretty cool according to Kristabelle.
The Collinses enjoyed watching a “Beauty and the Beast” show.
“I thought that was really cool,” Collins’ sister Lexi said.
They spent two days at Universal Studios and were able to use their gold pass, giving them the privilege to be immediately escorted to specific rides by going through the back entrances.
“They even asked us where we wanted to sit on the ride,” Kristabelle said. “We got a lot more done on those days at those parks.”
Collins had his picture taken with the Transformers.
“They were huge,” Kristabelle said. “There was a big, long line to get photos with them, but they saw his pass and said, ‘Come on,’ and he went right up and got his picture with three of them. It was really nice.”
Wish kids are all given a gold star to signify their trip.
“Each Wish kid gets a gold metal star that they take into the Magic Castle,” Kristabelle said. “They can write their name on it or decorate it, and then they have a whole ceremony they do with a star fairy. She would hang the stars at night, so we had to go back in a couple days to the star observatory. It was a huge tower room with thousands and thousands of stars. They line the walls and the rafters, they are everywhere. It was beautiful and kind of sad at the same time.”
Collins said the overall trip was “good,” but his favorite part was staying at the Village.
The Village is decorated in a different theme for each day and the crew is made up of several characters; Buttons the squirrel, the Gift Fairy, and Mayor Clayton, who was a rabbit.
“Buttons is a white squirrel who lets all the kids make a pillow that he hides in the castle and they have to find it. They also have real white squirrels running around the Village,” Kristabelle said. “The Gift Fairy would visit everyday and leave little gifts like Give Kids the World bracelets and stuff. Mayor Clayton and his wife would even tuck the kids in bed if they wanted, but ours were not interested in that.”
Due to the size of the Village, the families use shuttles to get from place to place. There is a pool, splash pad, amusement park rides, shops, and restaurants available to all the Village guests.
“The thing I thought was really nice about the Village was that it was all wheelchair accessible, even the pool.” Chad said. “Levi enjoyed riding the shuttles too.”
The Collinses said they had dance parties at the Village where anyone was able to join in the fun and the playground was set up as a big Candy Land game.
Since 1986, more than 167,000 children and families have stayed at the Give Kids The World Village. During the week the Collinses stayed, 276 total families were there. According to gktw.org, it is a whimsical Village unlike any other place on earth.
“We were grateful for this once in lifetime opportunity,” Kristabelle said. “The Give Kids The World Village gave us a week to be just a “normal” family. We didn’t have to stress over doctor’s appointments, medications, surgeries, wheelchairs, etc. We were just a family there and it was the most awesome week ever.”