A special surprise was in store for more than 150 northern Alberta and Northwest Territories children gathered at an Edmonton hotel Sunday.
The Edmonton chapter of Dreams Take Flight, a national non-profit dedicated to providing a trip-of-a-lifetime to medically, mentally, physically, socially or emotionally challenged children, told the kids they will be heading on an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland on Sept. 14.
“I can’t believe I’m going all the way to L.A. to Disneyland; this is amazing,” said Gavin Dale, 10, of Fort McMurray.
“I thought this was just a normal dance party. I was just like jumping up and down from my seat.”
The reveal day, as it’s known by the volunteers, took place at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in west Edmonton. Parents and organizers were in on the secret, but the children had no idea.
It’s the 24th flight in the history of Dreams Take Flight and the organization is taking 50 children from the Fort McMurray area this year, said Kristan Myers, director of communications at Dreams Take Flight Edmonton.
The organization started in 1989 when a group of Air Canada employees in Toronto organized a trip that took special needs children on a DC-9 aircraft to Walt Disney World in Florida.
In 1997, the charity expanded to serve Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.
Air Canada donates an aircraft to each chapter for the day to fly the children to Disneyland Los Angeles or Disney World Orlando. The money to cover the flight is raised throughout the year.
Gavin’s mother, Jessica Dale, said the trip will give her son a much-needed break from “hearing about” the wildfire that ravaged the community in May and June.
“He found out and then he asked, ‘Are you letting me go? Am I allowed to go?’ He’s really excited and so are we just to see how excited he is,” she said.
“I can’t even verbalize my thoughts to Dreams Take Flight … it’s such a special thing.”
During the reveal day, children also met players and cheerleaders from the Edmonton Eskimos, firefighters and received clothes for the trip. Parents, in the meantime, attended a presentation about the formalities.
“It’s about wanting to give back to your community,” said Nadine Bailey, director of Dreams Take Flight.
“The best joy comes when you get on that plane and you take those kids to (Disneyland) and you see that smile on their faces.”