Volunteer village

NHS students spent their spring break volunteering at Give Kids the World


Photo by photo provided by Laura Claussen

Claussen sitting on a butterfly bench at Give Kids the World. She visited GKTW for the second time this past spring break.

Lauren Patrick and Kennedy Miller

Spring break.

Two short words that have the potential to conjure up tantalizing visions of white beaches, luxurious cabanas, and the blissful freedom from the endless stress of high school into any overworked student’s mind. However, not everyone takes those two relaxing and responsibility-free weeks entirely for themselves. At NHS, several students instead choose to use their time off helping others, such as volunteering at Give Kids the World.

Give Kids the World (GKTW) is a resort in central Florida for children with critical illnesses to have a vacation with their family. The trip is free and all activities within the GKTW Village are run by volunteers.

Tom Shriver-McGrevy is a local youth minister at Noblesville’s First United Methodist Church. He’s been to GKTW eight times with volunteer groups of teens and adults. He also visited the village on his honeymoon, and with four more trips planned this year, it will be a total of 12 visits to the organization by the end of 2019.

“I’ve been volunteering with Give Kids the World since 2015 and have logged over 200 hours,” Shriver-McGrevy said.

The church takes four groups a year, one student group at fall break, two student groups at spring break, and one adult group during the summer. Each trip lasts one week, and volunteers frequently visit Disney World or Universal during their stay.

“We’ve built relationships with families, staff, and volunteers that will last a lifetime,” Shriver-McGrevy said. “This mission trip has become a strong part of our church’s identity.”

The program offers hope for families with a sick child, and the volunteers are the ones to help it along its way. Many volunteers are high school students.

Laura Claussen is a sophomore at NHS. She first went to GKTW during fall break of her sophomore year and went again this past spring break.

“I decided to go because I’ve heard such good things about it from friends from my church that went in the past and so I wanted to experience it myself,” Claussen said.

For Claussen, GKTW is the happiest place on Earth. She’s been able to see the impact of her volunteering first hand, and says she enjoyed her time there immensely.

“The smallest things you do make a huge smile go on a kid’s face. One time I gave a kid chocolate ice cream, and he acted like I just gave him a million dollars,” Claussen said.

She says one of her favorite parts of spending time at GKTW is seeing all the kids play games with volunteers. Claussen remembers shooting baskets and running around with little kids who were extremely grateful for the opportunity to simply play with other kids.

“My favorite memory is of a little girl named Christina. She had a brain tumor, so she couldn’t see very well,” Claussen said. “She had really thick glasses but she would run everywhere even if she couldn’t see.”

For families like Christina’s, GKTW is a great break from day to day realities. Instead of parents taking their kid to doctor’s appointments and constantly worrying about providing for their kid, GKTW provides for all their needs, giving families a break.

“At GKTW everything is taken care of for the family.  They get housing, food, park tickets, all free of cost,” Shriver-McGrevy said. “It’s a magical experience for the entire family.”

Sophomore Jackie Lawrence got to experience that magic when she went to GKTW spring break of 2018 and also again this past spring break. Lawrence’s older sister has volunteered there several times in the past, making Lawrence curious about the GKTW experience.

“Last year was my first trip, but I’d always heard about it, and [my sister] always came back with great memories,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence says a wide variety of jobs are available to volunteers, such as working at the ice cream parlor, game center, operating the carousel, giving out snacks at the snack shack, or ultimately just get to know the families. For Lawrence, one of the best jobs is in the kitchen.

“I love doing drinks, which is the drink station,” Lawrence said. “You fill up their cup and it seems like such a simple task, but it makes people so happy.”

According to Lawrence and the other volunteers, there are rarely sad faces at GKTW, despite the circumstances of many families attending. Optimism and joy instead take the place of sadness and fear.

“You look at all the families and all the families are going through horrible things and you know that, but when they’re there everyone has a smile on their face and it’s just so great to experience,” Lawrence said. “That’s why I love it personally, just getting to connect with everyone who’s just so happy all the time.”

Sophomore Savannah Sexton also went to GKTW in spring 2018 and again this spring break. Each week, it takes 1,200 volunteers to run the Village, so a volunteer’s schedule changes day to day.

“Some days you’re working outside and some days you’re working inside, serving food to all the guests,” Sexton said. “ We mostly just hung out and got to know the kids and all the families.

Sexton’s favorite memory of GKTW is meeting and talking with all of the happy families and excited kids while volunteering. Another one of her favorite memories is seeing all of the hard work from volunteers.

“I really liked seeing how dedicated the workers were there and there’s volunteers that come there every single week, so there’s a ton of people all across the country traveling just to help out these families,” Sexton said.

Within the resort, there are several fun places for kids to go to, but one of the most memorable places on the grounds is the castle, where kids get to leave their mark even after they’ve returned home.

“In the castle, a child gets to go there and they get to pick out a star and write their name on it,” Sexton said. “When they get done writing their name on it, the star goes up on the wall or the ceiling and every time they come back to the village, they can go see their star.”

That’s not the only great thing about the program, according to Sexton. She says the entire atmosphere is wonderful.

“If I had to use one word to describe Give Kids the World, I would say it’s magical,” Sexton said. “There’s so much they can do there, there’s parties every single night that the kids can go to, and they celebrate every single holiday every single week so they don’t miss out on anything.”

The magic and parties at GKTW is something Sexton will always remember, and that she wants other students to experience too.

“Anyone who wants to go should take the opportunity to go because it’s really life-changing and it’s very fun to see all the different aspects of Give Kids the World,” Sexton said.  

Shriver-McGrevy agrees with Sexton about the wonderful things volunteers get to witness while at GKTW.

“I feel so blessed to be able to volunteer with GKTW,” Shriver-McGrevy said. “It’s an experience like no other.  I’m always moved by the children and their stories as well as their resilience. I am blown away by their commitment to hope and their belief in magic.”