Making wishes come true

By Randy Riley - Contributing Columnist

A few years ago, Debbie and I took a long driving vacation out west. We thoroughly enjoy long driving trips. We see amazing sights, meet some wonderful people, learn from locals and enjoy each other’s company.

On that trip, we were gone for slightly over a month and logged over 10,000 miles on the road and on an auto-ferry trip from Bellingham, Washington to Whittier, Alaska. We did a lot of traveling in those 32 days.

Years ago, I heard that Napoleon Bonaparte famously stated, “An army travels on its stomach.” I’m not sure about Napoleon and his army, but Debbie and I sure do.

Debbie is an absolute whiz on her iPad. She can make a mobile-hot-spot using her iPhone and find places to eat and sleep almost anywhere in the country.

One of our frequent topics when we stop and eat is, “Where are we going to eat next?” We definitely love to travel on our stomachs.

One morning, as we rolled down the highway, I found myself in a real pancake-mood. Luckily, there was a Perkins just off the road. So, we zipped right in and settled into a booth.

On our table was a laminated information card about the “Give Kids the World Village.” Perkins is one of their major corporate sponsors.

We had heard about the project from our daughter, Jessi. A few years earlier, our grandson Clayton, had been diagnosed with retinoblastoma – cancer of the eye.

Before he was two years old, he had his right eye and part of his optic nerve removed. He then went through six months of chemotherapy. For a long time, he was a very sick little boy, but he never lost the joy and enthusiasm that little Clayton was born with.

Everyone who met him immediately fell in love with him.

During one of his hospital stays, Jessi was told that Clayton qualified for a “Make a Wish” experience. After some discussion and planning, it was arranged for the entire family to visit Disney World the following summer.

Clayton was mainly excited about maybe meeting Captain America.

The “Make a Wish” staff arranged for the family to be housed at a very special resort that is technically not a part of Disney World — it is called “Give the Kids the World Village.” The village is on 84 acres just minutes from the heart of Disney World. Building the village was the passion of Henri Landwirth.

Landwirth was a holocaust survivor. Following WWII, he worked his way from Belgium to New York City on a freighter. He arrived with just $20 in his pocket and quickly enlisted in the army. After serving his newly adopted country, he was able to use his GI benefits to study hotel management.

Ten years later, he landed a management job in Cocoa Beach. It became his lifelong career and passion. He loved serving others.

Several years later, Landwirth was asked to provide a complimentary hotel stay for a young girl named Amy. She had been diagnosed with end-stage leukemia.

Amy wanted to visit the Orlando area and their many theme parks with her family. Henri was excited to be able to help her, but before he could put all the pieces of her trip together, she died. He vowed to himself that that would never happen again.

To keep everything ready for a sick child to visit Disney World, he developed “Give the Kids the World Village”. Everything a child would need is now immediately available at his new resort.

Working with the “Make-A-Wish Foundation”, the families of thousands of children who have faced death have been able to enjoy the delights of Disney World and Orlando without spending a dime of their own money.

A few years ago, Clayton became one of those very special children.

When our waitress arrived, I noticed that her name tag said “Manager.” We ordered coffee and asked her about the laminated card and the “Give the Kids the World Village.” She told me that Perkins collected money for the project, but she really didn’t know anything about it.

So, I told her about Clayton. I told her about his experience with cancer and about his amazing adventures at the “Give the Kids the World Village” that Perkins supported.

By the time we finished talking, we all had tears in our eyes. She simply said, “I had no idea what that was about, but now I’m going to tell everyone.”

That summer, after Clayton got home, he was overflowing with stories, smiles and laughter about his trip.

Clayton and his sisters were made to feel special. They received VIP treatment everywhere they went. Thanks to Make-a-Wish-Foundation and Give-The-Kids-The-World-Village, Clayton got to hang-out with his favorite superhero – Captain America.

In reality, Clayton will always be my superhero — my favorite, cancer-fighting superhero.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

By Randy Riley

Contributing Columnist