Bailey has overcome more in 11 years than most people face in a lifetime. Born prematurely at 28 weeks, Bailey spent the first two years of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her left arm was amputated when she was 26 days old. She lives with autism and is non-verbal.
Now in her first year of middle school, Bailey and her mom, a U.S. Navy Veteran, have persevered to overcome some serious challenges. Needless to say, a family vacation wasn't in the cards for this family.
So how is it possible that Bailey and her mom are counting down the days to an all-expenses-paid, five-day trip to Disney World? And how is it possible that 19 other families with extraordinary children like Bailey are going with them?
Ace & TJ's Grin Kids is making it happen. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020, the nonprofit is dedicated to enriching the lives of terminally ill or chronically disabled children. And what's more enriching to a child than a visit to Disney World?
The hosts of The Ace & TJ Show, a syndicated morning radio show originating in Charlotte, were inspired to start a nonprofit because of the many requests they routinely got from listeners about people in need. They decided to provide annual trips to Disney World to children and families facing terminal diagnoses or chronic disabilities. To date, they have provided more than 600 children and family members with an experience they will never forget.
The party starts before the plane (a private charter!) even takes off, with a festival featuring face painters, balloon animals, mascots and more. Chartered buses take the group to multiple Disney parks, and the team works with Disney escorts to maximize the fun. The Grin Kids and their families enjoy shows and activities together in the morning, and the afternoon is for families to spend together, whether that means resting, attending to medical needs, or using their Park Hopper passes for more fun. Ace and TJ join the Grin Kids on every trip and take part in the fun.
The Grin Kids team knows that parents of children with an illness or disability have to be detail-oriented, so they make sure everything is taken care of. "If they have a caretaker, or a nurse that needs to accompany them, or if they need a translator, we take care of it," says Grin Kids Director of Philanthropic Giving Lizz Updegraff. "Most of the time, this is the one and only family vacation they have ever had."
For Bailey, it's even more than a family vacation—it's a birthday gift. The 2020 Grin Kids trip is planned for January 22, just three days before she turns 12. Birthdays are extra special for Grin Kids, and Bailey is no exception. "They said she would never make it past her first two weeks," says Bailey's mom. "It's living proof that with the right kind of love, dedication and prayers, anything is possible."
How You Can Help
Ace & TJ's Grin Kids partnered with Chili's for #GivingTuesdayCLT last year, with the restaurant donating a portion of the entire day's proceeds to the organization. Stay tuned to Grin Kids on Facebook to find out what they've got planned for #GivingTuesdayCLT this year. In the meantime, check out their upcoming fundraisers, meet the 2020 Grin Kids, and make a donation online or text GRIN to 41444 to help send a Grin Kid to Disney.
Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling for nonprofits. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.