If behind every great man there stands a great woman, then the statement couldn't be closer to the truth when speaking of Stacey Weiss. The wife, mother and Executive Director of Bert's Big Adventure passionately enlightened me on the non-profit organization's mission, how she and Bert conceptualized it and how it's evolved in ten years. I was mesmerized and moved to hear Stacey speak with so much love in her heart about these children and their families.
How & why was Bert's Big Adventure created?
SW: Bert and I were working in Dallas in 1996-98 with Kidd Kraddick in the Morning. Kidd had a chartibale foundation called Kidd's Kids and when you're a part of his team you go on a trip with him... so Bert went to Disney with Kidd's Kids. He was so impacted by the event and the trip that Bert knew this was what he wanted to do someday. When we got to Atlanta in 2001, we started the process. We went on the air and pitched the idea to "Atlanta."
*By 2002, Bert and Stacey were living up to the organization's tagline: Magical Moments... Vip Kids. The participating families, fifteen in all, which includes every individual living under the same roof, are given the VIP treatment with a five day trip to Disney World. I also learned there are very "special" things that Bert's Big Adventure provides for, like: [this is where I got teary-eyed]
SW: Behind the scenes we plan family reveals. For example, we married a couple who put off their wedding for three years when their child got sick. We got the kids the outfits for the wedding and timed it so the wedding ended when the fireworks [at Disney] started... Amazing! We've also given away a van with a lift and money to buy a car for the families.
An unforgettable trip. 5 magical days with Bert's Big Adventure broken down one day at a time:
SW: Cooper Limousine picks up each family at their home and takes them to an airport hanger where we have a red carpet, including interviews on the red carpet. The kids love it and don't know what to do they're so excited! This is on a Wednesday and on Thursday we do The Bert Show live from the Sheraton Getaway Hotel.
Then we take off from private hanger with Express Jet who make it so special. They roll out a huge red carpet and line up with their employees who cheer on the kids. I get to pick the flight crew, which is one of my favorite things I get to do because Express Jet requires their employees to apply and they have to write an essay telling why they want to work the flight. [The essays are special and heartwarming.]
Friday starts our first big day at Disney. After a group event we break off and every family is assigned a staff person who becomes their liason for the day. [We make it so] the families don't have to think about anything. They just have to have fun! You develop a close relationship to that family which helps them feel better connected to the organization... AND we do it all again on Saturday.
Sunday is family day which means that the families go on their own through the Magic Kingdom to make lifelong memories.
Monday we take The Bert Show live from ESPN Center. We fly home after that and Express Jet throws a small going away party and dance. The limo is there waiting to take the families home, in style.
SW: What most people don't know is that we're much more than the trip now. The philosophy I've always used with the foundation is that the trip is the catalyst that fills the pipeline for our Bert's Big Adventure community. Its so powerful because what the families tell us is that before Bert's Big Adventure they were all alone and it has been magical, really amazing.
With ten magical years of Bert's Big Adventure under their belt, Stacey, Bert and their remarkable and dedicated team continue to have a positive impact on lives. The organization continues to grow and evolve. In 2013, they are even moving into Indianapolis and Nashville!
Stacey shared further insight about new Bert's Big Adventure programs:
SW: *In Reunion Adventure we bring back families from previous 'Adventures' and have a big party... a reunion.
*We now have so many families and though they dont look "sick" in the [trip] pictures the kids get back home and they're in and out of the hospital. Carter's kids clothing came on as a partner and they wanted something special to put on their clothing so we came up with Fairy God Parent program. Everyday that a Bert's Big Adventure kid is in the hosptial they get a visit. Carter's fund this program and they show up wearing t-shirts, crowns and wands, they bring the kids lunch and spend time with them. Sometimes the kids are asleep so the god parents visit with the parents.
*Still in a dream state, a new concept: college scholarships!
[Only six kids have past away.] Something I feel the trip does is that it helps them survive longer, its weird. Never did I think this is what it would turn into. Bert and I talk about it all the time... it's perspective is what it is... when I'm having a really bad day, I stop and think how stupid, when one of our kids is getting raditaion today!
For more information on Bert's Big Adventure and photo galleries, visit their website. Be moved; get inspired.
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