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Special “village” gives kids with life-threatening illnesses a chance to make fun memories

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KISSIMMEE, FL (KTVI) - Give Kids the World Village is a 79-acre non-profit resort in central Florida that provides weeklong cost-free vacations to children between the ages of 3 and 18 with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Pamela Landwirth, president and CEO of Give Kids the World, says they serve 143,000 families at the village, adding that between 20,000 and 30,000 children each year are diagnosed with life-threatening illness in the United States alone.

Alyson Kendall’s son, Ryan, was one of those kids.

“It was one week where we were able, including my other two children, to really put aside some of the sad parts and just be a family and make memories,” Kendall said.

A trip to the village is provided through wish granting organizations. Once a child is identified, a village representative works with doctors and hospitals to take care of travel and the family’s stay. It doesn’t cost the family a dime and they make sure any child who wants to come is able to do so.

Landwirth says they can even bring a child to the village in less than 24 hours if need be.

The village itself functions like a fairy tale. The village mayor is a giant rabbit who makes sure everyone enjoys their stay. The villas serve as a home away from home. There’s so much to do, whether it’s riding the carousel, going to Disney World (or if necessary, bringing Disney to the village), getting ice cream for breakfast, boat racing, operating model trains, or celebrating the holidays.

Sadly, many children who visit the village don’t live to see their favorite holiday, so Christmas is celebrated every Thursday and Halloween every Monday. And that’s just the beginning.

“We pack everything we can into this week so that we are creating the happiness that inspires hope,” Landwirth said.

Everything they do for the child, they also do for the siblings.

Kendall says one of her favorite things when visiting the village was an interactive star chamber. It’s a huge castle where kids write their names on a star and it’s placed among thousands and thousands of other stars of kids who have been there before.

“The thing that was so cool is that families forever will know that Ryan was there,” Kendall said.

Ryan, who visited in July 2012, passed away the following month, but his star is still shining bright in central Florida.