This year was my first Kidd's Kids experience, an annual event that transports children with special medical needs and their families from Dallas to Disney World. They don't pay a dime, but as I would come to find out, the experience is priceless.
I arrived to work early Thursday to help with setup. Making my way through the chain-linked security gate and across the broad path to our maintenance hangar, a million different thoughts swirled through my head. What should I expect? How should I act?
I knew that in a matter of hours the hangar would be filled with children, many of whom had seen more of a hospital in the past year than I'd seen in a lifetime.
Truthfully, it's hard not to think about. It tears me up inside, the thought that any child has to go through what these kids have endured. But I knew this was their weekend to forget their worries, and so I did my best to do the same. Stepping into the dressed-up hangar for the first time made me realize just how big a deal the weekend was, and the kids hadn't even arrived yet. An Emmy-themed red carpet adorned the entrance, leading to food, a mobile game truck, and other fun activities. Giant Emmy statues lined the black-curtained walls. The newest Toy Story movie was being tested for audio and video.
Soon, all of this would be open for the kids' enjoyment. I was amazed at how quickly and seamlessly it had come together. The Kidd's Kids leaders and Southwest's own team have the event down, from send-off to arrival. The children arrived in specialized golf carts, redesigned to look like a classic car and a Hummer. You don't have to see it in person to know how much an event like Kidd's Kids means to these children. But, boy, watching everyone laugh and smile is truly contagious.
After about an hour of fun and games, Kidd Kraddick said a few words and officially kicked off the event. Waiting on the runway outside our private maintenance hangar was a WiFi-equipped plane, decked out in a Kidd's Kids decal. Everyone loaded up and off they went for five days of fun at The Magic Kingdom and surrounding parks.
Several of us from Southwest met up with the kids in Disney World on Sunday evening. Reuniting with many of the kids I got to know at the send-off reminded me just how much an impact this trip had on them. The kids brimmed with smiles, all climbing over each other to tell me about their favorite part of the trip.
Arriving back in Dallas was hard, but the memories of this trip will last forever.
Thank you, Kidd Kraddick, Derrick, the whole team (you know who you are)! What you do is so much larger than life, and I can't thank you enough for not only giving the children a one-of-a-kind experience, but also for giving Southwest the opportunity to be part of it.