So Little Time, So Much Magic
KISSIMMEE, FL — Not far from Disney World, there’s a magical place where children with life-threatening illnesses can go into a cookie shop and walk out with delicious treats, or another shop where they can eat ice cream sundaes without limit.
They can play games at kiosks, or dance with Disney princesses and other Disney characters. Girls can dress up in princess gowns and boys can pretend to be pirates. And they can do all this at no expense.
In fact, the children and their families can stay for free in one of more than 80 fancifully decorated suites on 84 acres when they are not tooling around Disney World or Epcot Center, again at no expense.
The families are guests at Give Kids the World Village, “a cross between Disney and Whoville,” said a staff member of the Timothy Plan, which has proudly supported the Village for the past four years.
The brainchild of the late hotelier and philanthropist Henri Landwirth, a Holocaust survivor with a huge heart for children, the Village makes it possible for families that have children with life-threatening illnesses to enjoy a wonderous time at the world’s most celebrated theme park.
The Village staff works closely with Make-a-Wish foundation and other charities that help these children realize their dream.
“God willing, I would be able to help other people”
Mr. Landwirth, who died at age 91 in April, had a remarkably difficult, colorful and meaningful life. Arrested by Nazis at age 13, he spent five years during World War II in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He was about to be shot when a Nazi soldier changed his mind and let him live.
“You cannot imagine how it was,” he told an interviewer. “Auschwitz was my first realization that the camps were there for our extermination. … I knew it would be a matter of time and I would be murdered like the rest.”
The ordeal made him promise that “one day, God willing, I would be able to help other people not to suffer as much as I did,” Mr. Landwirth said, according to the Florida Times-Union.
In 1985, he founded the Fanny Landwirth Foundation in honor of his mother, who, along with his father Max, was killed by the Nazis, leaving alive only Henri and his twin sister Margot, who died last year at age 90.
After Allied soldiers liberated the camps, Henri decided to come to America, so he hopped aboard a ship as a deck laborer, with only a Torah and $20 in his pocket.
He quickly learned English, and was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in Korea. After the war, he took a course in hotel management while working the night desk at a Manhattan hotel.
Moving to Florida in 1954, he went from being a bellman to managing the 100-room Starlight Motel in Cocoa Beach. Then he opened his first Holiday Inn franchise in Orlando two years before Disney World debuted in 1971. Orlando now attracts an estimated 72 million visitors annually.
A Little Girl’s Impact
In the 1980s Mr. Landwirth began offering free rooms to the newly formed Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of terminally ill children.
But something happened that profoundly changed his perspective. Amy, a six-year-old girl with leukemia, was slated to stay with her family but she died before the trip could be arranged.
Mr. Landwirth made a “vow that no child in need would ever be failed again,” and founded Give Kids the World in 1986, opening the facility in 1988. Since then, 160,000 children and families have stayed at no charge, including free transportation and admissions to Disney’s theme parks.
But Mr. Landwirth was not finished. While visiting the Sulzbacher Center for the homeless in Jacksonville, he asked how he could help. He was told the residents needed more underwear. Recalling his awful time in concentration camps without adequate clothing, he went out and bought lots of underwear and donated it to the center. In 2000, he founded Dignity U Wear, which has now given away 9 million pieces of clothing valued at over $160 million to people in need all across the United States.
Having gotten to know some of America’s astronauts, including John Glenn, Henri also founded with them the Mercury Seven Foundation, now known as the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which provides scholarships to science students.
Give Kids the World Village is living proof that God can bring good out of even the worst circumstances. One supporter described the mission of the Village as “treatment of the soul,” noting that many children experience an uptick in their health because of the “spark” of boundless fun they experience away from hospitals, clinics and endless medical tests.
On Sept. 15, the Village will celebrate at its 30th annual Black and White Gala, replete with gourmet food and entertainment, and a silent auction of donated items conducted via tablets at the guests’ tables.
As Henri was fond of saying, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
For more information, go to gktw.org
A writer for Timothy Partners, Ltd. He is a regular weekly columnist for The Washington Times and Townhall.com and is frequently published by AmericanThinker.com, DailyCaller.com, OneNewsNow.com, and others. He has authored the following books: “A Strong Constitution: What Would America Look Like If We Followed the Law” (D. James Kennedy Ministries, 2018), Invested with Purpose: The Birth of the Biblically-Responsible Investment Movement, and A Nation Worth Fighting For: 10 Steps to Restore Freedom.