For 11 years, Atlanta-based nonprofit Bert’s Big Adventure has been hosting its annual Disney trip for children with chronic or terminal illnesses and their families. Thirteen children, out of more than 100 applicants, were selected for this year’s trip, including 5-year-old Jenna Chandler, of the East Lake area of Atlanta, and 8-year-old Pharaoh Halley, of Decatur.
“[The trip] means the world,” said Tammy Chandler, Jenna’s mother. “It would be very difficult financially and physically for us to go without a lot of help. I can’t thank them enough.”
Jenna and her twin sister Mary were born prematurely, and Jenna suffers from cerebral palsy.
“She does not walk independently,” Chandler said. “She uses a walker and she has a wheelchair for long distance. She speaks, though. She’s very verbal.”
Chandler said both girls are excited about the trip — meeting the Disney princesses and going on the rides. Jenna and her sister will also be celebrating their birthday while on the trip so it is extra special for them, Chandler added.
Pharaoh, who suffers from sickle cell and renal vascular hypertension, is also looking forward to the rides and seeing Disney characters as well as experiencing the hotel stay, his mother Monique Halley said.
She said the trip is a tremendous blessing. Just last year, her son had nine brain surgeries. Their family spent Thanksgiving in the hospital.
“[The trip organizers] said don’t worry about anything,” she said. “It’s hard when you’ve always had to think about medicine and all these different doctors’ appointments. To be able to have just a week when you’re [able to] just have fun, we’re looking forward to that.”
Bert Weiss, co-founder of Bert’s Big Adventure and host of “The Bert Show” radio program, said the nonprofit tries to select families who have the greatest need. The children selected must also live in the radio show’s listening area, be between the ages of 5 and 12, prove financial need and have never been to Walt Disney World.
Weiss said he cherishes the opportunity to change the lives of the families who go on the trip. The organization also helps the families connect with one another, said co-founder Stacey Weiss.
“One thing you’ll hear often from special needs parents is they feel very isolated and alone because nobody understands what their day-to-day is like,” she said.
In addition to the Disney trips, the organization plans reunion events about four times a year in Atlanta where the children and families from the previous Disney trips can come together.
A closer look:
Tune in to 99.7 FM Thursday from 5:30 to 10 a.m. as “The Bert Show” broadcasts live from the send-off celebration party for the families attending the Bert’s Big Adventure Walt Disney World trip.