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Mike Scopa

Smiles Across the Miles

WDW fan with a big heart spreads magic to kids in need

Friday, August 6, 2004
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

The Disney Internet community includes some very special people. Some of these people have found a way to use their passion and energy for Walt Disney World and channel it to help those less fortunate. In this session, let's look at one of those special people and the program she has created to send some Disney magic to those in need.

The Amazing Nancy

A few years ago, I met a Walt Disney World fan unlike any other. I need to dub her “The Amazing Nancy” because of how she approaches life and how she treats everyone who comes into her life. Nancy Jeschke is one of those special people who brings sunshine into a room on the cloudiest of days, who has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time, and whose love of helping others brings smiles to all who meet her.

A few years ago while navigating through WDWIG.com (now Deb Wills' AllEarsNet) Web site, Nancy read about the Mickey SOS (Soap or Shampoo) for Children project started by Dotti Saroufim. Dotti's program involved collecting extra shampoo and lotion bottles and bars of soap from the Disney resorts she visited and bringing them to Boston's Children Hospital. She mobilized many Disney Internet communities, including the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup.

Nancy was inspired by this program and decided that she wanted to take it one step further and “share the wealth.” She envisioned a similar type of program that would focus on a different institution every year. She felt such a program would be a great way to spread some Disney cheer and magic.

Nancy thought, “What a great idea to involve the WDW Internet community into helping children in need who may never walk up Main Street, USA and get to gaze at Cinderella Castle. ”

Nancy went to work. Two years ago, she began an effort called “Smiles Across the Miles,” a program that works towards bringing smiles to children in need. Her goal is to help as many children as possible.

The program started off in simple fashion. Nancy would first identify an institution or organization in need, contact them to discuss the program and whether the institution would accept the help. If the answer was yes, Nancy would compile a list of things the institution would accept (such as soap and toothpaste) and announce the program in several Disney Internet communities. She would ask those visiting the WDW Resort to save such items as spare hotel soap, shampoo, lotions and shower caps, and bring them home to be eventually sent along with the other items.

These items would be sent to a selected organization such as a special camp for special-needs children, an orphanage, or an institution that was serving children in need.

Smiles Across the Miles selects a new organization every three to six months. Why do this? “So children around the U.S.—and we have even gone to Mexico!—can benefit from your trip, and we can bring a smile to their faces with Mickey!” she said.

Nancy asks her network to contact her with the names of the organizations that would benefit from this type of program and Nancy then contacts the institution to discuss how the program might serve them.

2003: Prader-Willi Syndrome Conference

Last year, Nancy put together a special Smiles program to help the Prader-Willi Syndrome (link) Conference held in Orlando, Florida in late June. [See the side bar for more information about PWS.]

Nancy called upon her network to help with create goodie bags and prizes to give out at the conference carnival, put on for the children and their siblings. This effort allowed conference organizers to use their cost savings to help the children in other ways, or bring a family to the conference.

That conference came to mind because a parent in one of the Disney Internet communities Nancy frequents had mentioned that he and his daughter, who has Prader-Willi syndrome, would be attending the conference.

Nancy worked with this parent and conference officials to introduce herself and the program. In talking with them, she found out what sort of items would be welcomed by the children who were attending the conference.

Nancy got her network started, and the response was overwhelming. Not only did the conference receive soaps and lotions, but also an assortment of beanie dolls, small toys, books, and many other items, with donors all expressing burning desire to bring a smile or two to a child and the child's parent.

One parent was very tearful in describing the generosity of the program, and realized that the WDW Internet community is very much a generous family. In fact, the whole conference was overwhelmed by the response.

2004: Camp Happy Times

This year, Nancy has been talking with Camp Happy Times in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Camp Happy Times is a non-for-profit organization that is an extension of the Valerie Fund (link) that offers a special camp for children who have or have had cancer. The camp was started 22 years ago and has grown in popularity ever since. In 2004, close to 2,000 campers are expected to attend this camp. During the week of camp, over 100 volunteers, including doctors and nurses, offer their time and skills to make the camp a wonderful experience for the children.

Camp Volunteer Director Millie Finkel said, “The camp has a 'store,' but of course, we do not charge. The store is there for the campers and offer whatever items they forgot to bring or their family was not able to provide.”

Millie provided Nancy with the following wish list for the store:

  • Bath and beach towels
  • Socks for both children and adult
  • Bathing suits
  • Underwear for adults, and boys and girls in all sizes
  • Sunscreen
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries all sizes from AA to D cell
  • White T-shirts for tie dying, in all sizes child to adult
  • Nonperishable foodstuffs, such as chips, cookies, and candy
  • Bottled water
  • Toiletries
  • Over-the-counter medications for the infirmary, such as Tylenol, Neosporin, and bandages
  • Pool toys, such as beach balls, goggles, and inner tubes
  • Sporting equipment T-shirt with appropriate logos
  • Phone cards for counselors
  • Party supplies for birthdays
  • Bug sprays
  • Arts & crafts supplies, such as markers, crayons, and paper
  • Laundry detergent
  • Resealable baggies in all sizes
  • Large trash bags
  • Sunglasses
  • Cosmetics, unused
  • Storage boxes
  • Videos

Camp Happy Times was suggested by a parent of an autistic boy who benefited from previous visits to Camp Happy Times. Some of the activities his son enjoyed at the camp included fishing—they have a contest to see who catches the most fish, as well as girls vs. boys—piñata, basketball, softball, field hockey, crafts, campfires, camp show, karaoke, camp newspaper and a Valentines day dance.

Some parents find that CHT becomes quite the experience for their child. The children come back thrilled with their experience, and one parent described CHT as a “special place” where his son had a wonderful time.

The best testimonial comes from a parent, who said of his son's experience:

“I'd have to say, other than giving him a week where he could just be a kid and not be concerned with being a leukemia patient, it gave him self confidence. Or maybe I should say it brought it out to where (my wife) and I could see it. Because of his difficulty with clearly communicating his thoughts we're not always sure of what he can and cannot do. This may have more to do with us, maybe unconsciously or maybe not, sheltering him and trying to protect him from being hurt. Whatever the reason, his having gone to CHT has brought out a far more self-confident, self-assured child than the one that left to go there.”

Helping Nancy

If you would like to join with fellow WDW fan Nancy in her current Smiles Across the Miles program for Camp Happy Times, you can do so by sending your items to:

Camp Happy Times
2101 Millburn Avenue
Maplewood, NJ 07040

Attn: Millie or Skip

All packages sent to Camp Happy Times should have “Smiles Across the Miles” written clearly on the packages, or they might not be open until after camp is over. Also, if you know of an organization that could benefit from such a program, please feel free to contact Nancy at NancyBJ@magicalley.com). There is always a child somewhere in need of some Disney magic.

Thank you, Nancy, for all you do. I'm sure Walt is smiling down on you and your program.

Next Time

Now that we've talked about helping others, it's time for me to get back to helping you. It seems there is never enough information or tools available to help those in need of planning their WDW trip. This month will see the launching of a Web site that takes planning to a new level.

We'll talk about it next time.

Class dismissed.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


WHAT IS PRADER-WILLI?*

Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) is a complex genetic disorder that typically causes low muscle tone, short stature, incomplete sexual development, cognitive disabilities, problem behaviors, and a chronic feeling of hunger that can lead to excessive eating and life-threatening obesity.

A disorder of chromosome 15, the prevalence of the syndrome is: 1:12,000–15,000 (both sexes, all races)

Major characteristics are hypotonia, hypogonadism, hyperphagia, cognitive impairment, difficult behaviors

Major medical concern: morbid obesity.

Information provided by the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (USA).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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