As kids, we all dream to visit Walt Disney World. And a lot of us do! But for some children, who are less fortunate, going to Disney is a dream that does not come true. So when I learned about a chance to change that for a group of 40 well-deserving children in my community of Evansville, Indiana, I joined the effort to make it a reality.
The opportunity to make a difference started in 2014 with my internship with the Public Information Officer, Jason Cullum, of the Evansville Police Department. Working to build local children’s positive perception of law enforcement, the police department began a program to raise money to take and share the magical experience of Disney alongside kids who otherwise wouldn’t even have the means to travel outside of Evansville. This year I signed on to not only help raise the $50,000 needed, I’d also be one of the chaperones on the trip to the Magic Kingdom.
Twenty boys and 20 girls from Glenwood Leadership Academy and Cedar Hall Community School, ranging from 7 to 13 years old, were chosen by their teachers for excelling in the classroom and maintaining their citizenship. The majority of these remarkable students have overcome many obstacles (challenges and hardships that many of us cannot fathom) and yet they still find a way to come to school with a smile on their face and ready to learn.
What’s most amazing to me is the sheer joy that the kids experience when they are chosen. I was told how one student at the assembly when he heard his name called for earning a spot on the trip erupted from the bleachers as if he was on the game show The Price Is Right.
When the big day came, 40 exhilarated students climbed aboard the buses. At the same time 20 chaperones, consisting of a few of their school’s teachers and principals and local law enforcement officers and me, could not fathom what was in store for all of us over the next five days.
As I mentioned, the overall objective is to provide students with a positive experience of the people who serve and protect our community. What many of these students see on their social media pages about law enforcement officers would soon be seen as an unfitting and false allegation of their new friends. None of them would have guessed that they would be waking up at 5 am local time to a light saber fight with the Chief of Police, Billy Bolin.
Throughout our extended weekend trip the students would walk 40+ miles, be rained on a whole day and wake up before the sun rose and not once was a single complaint heard from the new, young friends. The students learned how to read maps, work as a team, budget their allowance for food and trinkets; at times were asked to donate some of their money to various causes in the park and did so without hesitation and, most importantly, these kids learned to be kids again.
The group’s identical shirts stirred questions by other park goers and for the first time the students would say with pride that they were from Evansville, Indiana and that they earned their trip with their police officers.
Most importantly, the kids learned to dream, be open-minded and to create a ripple. The trip showed the students, and myself, that there are many possibilities for those who work hard. They understood that the police officers who rode Mt. Everest with them are the same great people who protect their streets. Lastly, while waiting for a show amongst a huge crowd, our small group brought 7,000+ people to their feet with the wave while dancing to Taylor Swift.
Today, I look back upon the adventure and I am truly amazed by how we helped instill two powerful ideas into 40 young minds. One, how the people entrusted to protect us are people who care for us and want to make a better world with us. Second, as Walt Disney would say,
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
If you would like to contribute to the 2017 Disney trip please contact Jason Cullum at 812.436.5744.