A Florida resort that's helped more than 127,000 children with a life threatening illness has a new look, and it was revealed this morning on "Good Morning America."
"Oh my God, look at this! This is amazing," Pamela Landwirth, the CEO of Give Kids The World, exclaimed this morning after catching her breath upon seeing the newly unveiled front entrance.
Mickey Mouse himself greeted an overwhelmed Landwirth at the front door as she held her hands over her mouth in shock while fighting back tears of joy.
"This is beyond my wildest expectations," she said, commenting on an intricate mural of a father with his two small children, comprised of 400 images of the resort's patients, their families and volunteers who work tirelessly every day to make this place so magical for all its visitors.
For 25 years, Give Kids the World Village, a 70-acre property in Kissimmee, has been dispensing hope, love and joy to sick children in the form of free, week-long fantasy vacations. When the resort found itself in need of help, "GMA" turned to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" host Ty Pennington and his team.
Pennington, his team and the Walt Disney World construction team targeted the Memory Makers Building - the resort's volunteer center - for a facelift. Wyndham Vacation Ownership company renovated most of the resort's 146 villas. West Elm donated furniture and accessories, and GAF provided roofing. The design took 600 hours. After a month-long demolition, the result of thousands of hours of work was unveiled.
"Wishes really do come true," Pennington told Landwirth before escorting her into yet another room marked with special surprise touches.
A new recreation room was also unveiled with framed handwritten letters on the wall from patients and families who had experienced the healing powers of Give Kids The World.
"Cherish every moment," one read. "Try to make life mean something and have hope no matter what."
"Hope is the most precious gift you can give," Landwirth agreed after reading the letter aloud. "That's what our volunteers help give all these children, and it makes a difference in their lives and it's amazing."
When the celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse heard about the organization's mission, he said he, too, had to be a part of the surprise.
"I'm so inspired being here," Lagassee explained. "It's unbelievable."
Kidney Cancer at 3 Years Old
Alyssa Pietruszka is one of the children who felt the magic of Give Kids the World Village.
When she was 3 years old, she was diagnosed with stage 3 kidney cancer.
"I had treatments of radiation and chemotherapy and after that nothing was working … so they put me in hospice and I was granted a wish from Make-A-Wish foundation," she said.
Taresa Pietruszka, her mother, said it was hard to have a child that was "full of life and happy and running around and the next day it's all taken away."
When Alyssa was in hospice, her wish was to be a princess, so she became a princess during her stay at Give the Kids the World Village.
"My first impression was that there was no doctor so I was safe from anything like needles," she said. "There's Christmas every Thursday and there's an ice cream palace and there's a carousel you can ride every day. It's just, anything that you could possibly imagine was there."
Before she arrived at the resort, Alyssa's situation was dire.
'It Saved My Life'
"I was lifeless, I wasn't laughing. I wasn't smiling ever," she said, adding that her stay helped her turn a corner.
"It was just, I was running instead of barely walking. And I was laughing and smiling. Anything I could possibly imagine I did," she said, calling the experience "the magic medicine."
Alyssa is now 15 and healthy, and is a sophomore in high school. She's also the resort's spokeswoman.
"I know with all my heart that Give Kids the World gave me the strength to survive and to be standing here today," she said. "It saved my life."