It was pitch black when Selkirk Elementary Principal Richard Zerbe arrived at Air Canada Hangars near Vancouver International Airport to await his five young students. While the students arrived somewhat sleepy, they were quickly jarred awake by the massive balloon structures, tables piled high with new clothes and other presents, colorful mascots (including the Canuck's mascot Fin) as well as dozens of eager and enthusiastic volunteers.
Zerbe's small posse joined 119 other children from across Metro Vancouver for an all-expenses paid trip down to California. It was all part of the annual Dreams Take Flight program, organized by dozens of volunteers and Air Canada. The program aims to take vulnerable kids on a one day trip of a lifetime to Disneyland.
During the trip, the kids were whisked down to California with their escorts on their own special Air Canada jet. At LAX, the plane was greeted on the tarmac by a special demonstration by the Los Angeles fire department, before being whisked away to Disneyland. There they got a VIP ticket that took all the students to the front of Disneyland ride line. Students got to eat whatever they wished and at the end of the day, got to pick whatever souvenirs they wanted to take home with them. On the way back home, everybody was able to fall asleep clutching a brand new Mickey or Mini Mouse stuffed doll.
"What does the day mean to me? It was so awesome!" said Gabriel Paul, a Grade 4 student at Selkirk. "I even got to watch Madagascar 3 on the plane. I will remember it my whole life. I am never going to forget it!"
In addition to the inflight entertainment, this year's highlights among the Selkirk participants included Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean rides, a Platypus pillow pet and of course everything to do with Star Wars.
The trip left an indelible mark on all the children who participated.
Zerbe says particular thanks need to go out to both the Dreams Take Flight volunteers and also local VSB volunteers like Gladstone Community School Team Coordinator Ron Scott.
"Ron's work is critical to this entire endeavor. All his efforts coordinating things for these kids, made it possible for them to go and gave them the opportunity to feel like Presidential VIPs for a day," says Zerbe. "I was so thrilled to be an escort and see how happy our kids were at Disneyland and how special they felt."
Zerbe says Scott has been coordinating the Dreams Take Flight program for VSB kids for countless years and has personally helped send close to a planeload of lucky children.
"His contributions to needy kids have been huge," says Zerbe.
For more information about Dreams Take Flight, click here.