Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
A day when cares fly away
Air Canada volunteers bring magic to kids' lives
For one special day, seven-year-old twins Tyson and Christopher MacIsaac forgot about autism and spent a day having fun at Disney World in Florida.
And it was all thanks to Dreams Take Flight and the Air Canada employees who run the charity on their own time.
"They both had such a great time down there," said mom Alanna thinking back to the 2011 trip.
"It was an exhausting day, but really fun. They both have their Disney T-shirts and still wear them.
"We wouldn't have been able to go there except for Dreams Take Flight."
Sharon Zayac, a local Dreams Take Flight organizer and an employee in Air Canada's sales accounting office in downtown Winnipeg, said all the Air Canada employees who participate in the event use their own holiday time.
"Everybody is a volunteer," Zayac said.
"It has been like that from the get-go. People donate their vacation and their time to help put it all together. I've been with this since day one here. Once you're part of it you never want to stop."
Dreams Take Flight first took off in 1989, when a group of Air Canada employees in Toronto decided to raise funds to send a bunch of underprivileged children to Canada's Wonderland in Ontario.
Bev Watson, both the local and national Dreams president, said at the time the employees, who called the effort Dream Come True, were looking at chartering a bus to the local theme park.
But Watson said the employees decided to expand the dream.
"They thought, 'Hey, we're an airline. Maybe the company would loan us a plane.' "
She said once they were given a plane, they quickly decided to change the goal to taking deserving children for a day-long trip to Disney World.
Zayac said three children from Winnipeg were on that first flight.
A few years later several other cities in the country, including Winnipeg, had their own Dreams Take Flights fundraisers and flights.
"We thought there were so many kids here that would be so appreciative so we need to have a flight here," Zayac said.
Winnipeg's first flight took off in 1996, with 71 children boarding an A320 Airbus bound for Orlando. Since then, about 1,200 Manitoba and Saskatchewan children have followed in their jet stream.
Across the country, more than 23,000 children have taken the flight either to Disney World in Florida, or, if they live in Alberta or British Columbia, Disneyland in California.
The goal now for the Winnipeg chapter is "to provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for physically, mentally or socially-challenged children to be a child for a day in Disney World."
This year's flight takes off on April 17.
Some of the agencies and organizations that children are invited from include the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, the Native Woman Transition Centre, St. Amant Centre and Winnipeg Boys and Girls Clubs.
Everybody on the flight, whether they are the pilots, the flight attendants, or other employees, are doing the trip on their own time. As well, three doctors and a nurse donate their time to go.
Chris Isford, an Air Canada vice president based in Winnipeg, has twice volunteered for the trip to Florida.
"It always strikes me how energetic and supportive the staff are to make the day the best day possible for the children," Isford said.
"What they do is just incredible. I'm very proud of our employees."
Zayac said Air Canada itself generously donates the plane, but the fundraisers have to do everything else, including filling up the plane's gas tank.
It's a full day for all the children. They're all up early enough to begin being checked in at the airport in Winnipeg at 3 a.m. The flight takes off at 5 a.m., and a few hours later they are passing by palm trees in Florida as they take a bus to the Magic Kingdom.
After zipping around on several rides, the children all meet up at the flagpole on Main Street at 7 p.m. and head back to the airport.
The plane returns to Winnipeg at midnight.
Eligible children must be between six and 12 years of age and they should never have been to a Disney theme park.
While the children are in Disney World, they are in groups of five or six with an Air Canada group leader and other escorts. Dreams provides the kids with food and drinks and each child can pick out a souvenir. All the kids receive backpacks, courtesy of Bentley. Inside are Crocs, and cookies and candies from Dare.
Watson said the Dreams volunteers are looking for a sponsor to fuel the plane.
MacIsaac said the event may be called Dreams, but she says her children have been left with memories they'll have for a lifetime.
"All the children who go have different challenges," she said.
"It was nice to forget the stresses in our lives for one day. It was so much fun for the boys.
"It's such a great organization."
How you can help
Three ways you can support the Winnipeg chapter of Dreams Take Flight:
You can donate money by going to www.ywg.dreamstakeflight.ca/
You can either go to the annual Open Your Heart to Dreams social on March 9 or support it by donating a prize. The social is being held at Canad Inns Polo Park from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are $25 and there will be music by Highway 59, a silent auction featuring two Air Canada North American/sun destinations and a silent raffle with other prizes. For tickets call 204-941-2726.
You can provide items for the loot bag given to the children during the flight. There are about 145 children on the flight so that's how many items they would need. Call 204-941-2726 for more information.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 B4
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