By KATIE CLARK
ATLANTA – As the critically acclaimed song “Let It Go” from the hit Disney movie “Frozen” blared across a local Atlanta hotel ballroom, 6-year-old Leslie, who battles with cystic hygroma, enchanted onlookers as she took her turn at Bert’s Big Adventure’s Karaoke send-off party to Disney World.
Bert’s Big Adventure takes children with chronic and terminal illness and their families on a magical trip of a lifetime each year. Bert’s Big Adventure is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2003 by Bert and Stacey Weiss. Weiss is a popular radio show host for Q100’s morning show, “The Bert Show,” which is broadcast from Atlanta.
The karaoke event is held every year the evening before the children and their families are flown to Orlando.
This year’s event was held Feb. 17 at the Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel. Each family was picked up from their home and driven by limousine to the hotel. They were greeted by the Weisses upon arrival and then made their way down the red carpet as the Bert’s Big Adventure staff and volunteers cheered and waved personalized posters with phrases such as “We’re off to Neverland!” “Dreams Do Come True!” and “Magic Happens Here.”
As of 2016, Bert’s Big Adventure has taken over 140 children and their families from six different states to the “Happiest Place on Earth.” This year’s trip included 15 Bert’s Big Adventure recipients and 50 family members.
Ellen Gibson, a Bert’s Big Adventure volunteer and the director of sales and marketing of Atlanta Steeplechase, a nonprofit organization which supports Bert’s Big Adventure, says: “Because of Bert’s Big Adventure, these families are given a beautiful memory, because so much of their lives and relationships with these sick children are spent in the hospital.”
Bert’s Big Adventure selects children whose names and stories are submitted each year to the organization. In order to be selected, the child must have a chronic or terminal illness or be physically challenged, be between the ages of 5 and 12 years old, live in the listening area of “The Bert Show,” and must never have visited the Disney World theme park in Orlando. Bert’s Big Adventure stays in touch with each child long after the Disney trip.
The nonprofit has a program called “Fairy Godparents.”Gibson explains that if Bert’s Big Adventure children are ever admitted back into the hospital, they are assigned a volunteer fairy godparent who visits them every day.
“And we have a little bit of a budget where we can go buy toys, books, games, bring them a pizza if they want it, but every day that they are in the hospital, a volunteer will come by and spend a few hours with them,” said Gibson.
Gibson is a fairy godparent to a 16-year-old girl who became a recipient eight years ago and spends a lot of time with her in the hospital because of her illness.
Gibson smiled as she said, “I sit with her a lot. She and I are BFF’s.”
Bert’s Big Adventure is recognized as a charity that builds community. Not only does Bert’s Big Adventure support a Disney vacation, and an ongoing fairy godparent program, it also sponsors “Reunion Adventures.”
These reunions are planned for the families to get together four to five times a year to foster relationships with each other, the Bert’s Big Adventure staff, and its partners.
Scott Moody of LOKD Entertainment has been the DJ for the karaoke send-off party and other Bert’s Big Adventure events for the past two years.
“I’m drawn to children’s charities, especially those benefitting terminally ill children,” Moody said. “I feel this particular charity is special as it puts emphasis on those special moments in a child’s life when sharing memories with family and friends.”
The 2016 Bert’s Big Adventure trip will no doubt create memories once again. For Leslie, seeing Queen Elsa’s castle in Walt Disney World with her family, will have hopefully have given her the opportunity to forget her illness and “Let It Go” for a little while.