As winter weather sets a chill across Central Florida, thousands of local youth are keeping warm thanks to donations from participants in the 2011 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna.
This week, nearly 25,000 warm clothing items from Disney will be distributed to those in need through Orange County Public Schools, Osceola County Public Schools, Covenant House and other Central Florida non–profit organizations.
The items, such as coats, sweaters, long sleeved t-shirts and gloves, were collected by Disney Marathon organizers along the race route on Jan. 9. Runners typically bundle up in layers prior to the marathon to keep warm and shed items as they make their way through the 26-mile course. In total, approximately 14,696 pounds of clothing was left behind for donation. Disney textile services laundered all of the gently used items before giving them to Central Florida charities.
Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Resort.
Wearing mouse-eared hard hats, the rescued Chilean coal miners pose Jan. 31, 2011 for a photo on Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. All of the miners, their rescuers and their families are enjoying a Disney-provided holiday saluting them for their story of hope and perseverence.
Photo by Kent Phillips, courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort.
An institution at the Disneyland Resort, the lowering of the U.S. flag takes place each evening in the Town Square of Disneyland. Unlike its sister ceremony at the Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom, however, the ceremony rarely honors individuals who have performed service in the country’s military.
Yesterday evening, that rare and distinct honor went to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta who was recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest service award possible to a member of the United States military, by President Barack Obama.
In 2007, then specialist Giunta was involved in a mission with his squad in Afghanistan when they were ambushed and immediately took on excessive enemy fire. Upon seeing his team leader falling, Giunta rushed to his team leader’s aid, offering him cover while administering first aid. Still in the line of fire, Giunta was struck twice, once in his body armor and once in his secondary weapon. Subsequently, when Giunta became aware that one of his team was unaccounted for, he spotted his fellow injured serviceman being carried away by two insurgents. Giunta immediately attacked the insurgents, killing one and injuring the other, who ran off. Giunta then spent the next half hour administering first aid to his fallen comrade until a MEDEVAC became available.
For his service, and for performing ‘conspicuously, by gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty,’ Giunta was award the military’s highest honor. Because of its very nature, the medal is most often awarded posthumously, making the occasion all that much more special. Giunta is the first living recipient of the award for conduct in any battle since the Vietnam War.
Giunta was joined and honored with fellow serviceman, Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo, who served with Giunta in the same battle and received the Silver Star. They and their wives were first honored in a processional down Main Street, USA before arriving in front of the train station for the ceremony.
After being led in the pledge of allegiance by the Dapper Dans barbershop quartet, Giunta and Gallardo were commended by Disneyland Resort President George Kalogridis and Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs who awarded the heroes with a saluting Mickey Mouse statuette to commemorate the event. In a brief speech, Giunta proudly accepted the honor on behalf of all those who served.
Following the traditional flag lowering ceremony, accompanied by the Disneyland Marching Band and Dapper Dans, Giunta was presented with the flag of the United States that had flown at Disneyland that day. The ceremony came to a close with the Dapper Dans leading the attended crowd in God Bless America.
The flag is currently being flown at half-mast at both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts in honor of the victims of the recent Arizona shootings.
Below is our photo gallery from the event. All photos by Kelly Noble for Stitch Kingdom.
A New Year will mean new memories for the Chilean miners whose saga transfixed the world, as they are treated to a hero’s welcome and family vacations of a lifetime at Walt Disney World Resort next month.
During their complimentary six-night Disney vacation, Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2011, the miners, their rescuers and immediate families will meet Disney characters, visit all four Walt Disney World theme parks and serve as honorary Grand Marshals of the Main Street, U.S.A. parade in Magic Kingdom.
Trapped 2,300 feet inside the earth for 69 days in a collapsed Chilean mine, the men were pulled from the darkness in a miracle rescue. In one of the year’s most touching stories, their unbending faith and endurance sustained them throughout the ordeal.
“The amazing story of these miners captured the attention of the world for demonstrating the true power and resilience of the human spirit,” said Disney President and CEO Bob Iger. “We are proud to welcome these courageous men and their families to the Walt Disney World Resort.”
The group will arrive to a welcome dinner with characters, dancing and Chilean cuisine prepared by Disney chefs. During their vacation, they also will be treated to a $500 gift card per family, a group photo in front of Cinderella Castle and personal photo albums of their visit.
Walt Disney World VoluntEARS prepare and serve nearly 750 meals a month at Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, a tradition that spans at least a decade and one of many ways that Disney lends a helping hand at the Coalition, which provides food and shelter to approximately 650 people a night. Many of them are families with children.
The Walt Disney World Resort takes care of dinner service twice monthly at the Coalition. When a holiday falls on the schedule, Disney chefs find great delight in making the meals even more magical.
Chef Leonard Thomson, Chef de Cuisine with Epcot Catering, recently oversaw the Coalition’s Thanksgiving dinner preparations, which began two days prior to the holiday. Creating a feast for approximately 700 people, Chef Thomson and team made a culinary cornucopia that included roasted turkey with gravy, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, braised beef tips, four-cheese baked pasta, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, salad greens, rolls and desserts such as pumpkin cheesecake.
“When Disney chefs are onsite for their regular meal service, the delicious aroma is unmistakable,” says Muffet Robinson, director of communications for Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. “Our staff and clients are so very grateful for the support of Walt Disney World.”
Coalition for the Homeless is more than a shelter; it is a comprehensive program designed to help homeless individuals and families get back on track to self-sufficiency. They offer numerous support services including job skills training, licensed day care, children’s programs and housing placement.
For the past few years, Coalition for the Homeless has been recognized as one of the top Disney’s Helping Kids Shine grant recipients. As part of this recognition, the Coalition continues to receive funding and ongoing comprehensive support from Disney, which includes board service, assistance in the maintenance and improvement of Coalition facilities, meals prepared by Disney chefs and donations of warm clothing in the winter.
“We sincerely value Disney’s generosity and commitment to making a difference in the lives of homeless individuals and families,” says Coalition for the Homeless President/CEO Brent Trotter. “Thanks to community partners, such as Walt Disney World Resort, we can extend our reach to help those who need it most.”
To learn more about how you can help, visit http://www.centralfloridahomeless.org.
Sarah White, a 16 year old from Seattle, WA, was recognized earlier this week by the Disneyland Resort for selflessly gifting her medal from the 2010 Disneyland Half Marathon to a fellow runner who was injured during the event. At just about a half mile from the finish line, 76 year old Shirley Rackner of Portland, OR fell and was injured, ultimately preventing her from finishing the race and earning the medal herself. At a pep rally held at White’s school, Disney (and Mickey Mouse) recognized White for her generosity and replaced her medal in a ceremony. Rackner, who had to have surgery to have a metal plate attached to her wrist, was also in attendance.
The video below has been furnished by Disney Parks as b-roll but there is little to it that isn’t justified in leaving in and we believe the raw footage in its entirety speaks for itself.
Before an audience of their peers, family and friends, the next chapter in a true-life Cinderella story unfolded this morning at Magic Kingdom Park as two Walt Disney World Cast Members were chosen to step into the time-honored role of Walt Disney World Ambassador. During a special ceremony in front of Cinderella Castle prior to park open, Norman Vossschulte and Jennifer Mason were named as the 40th Walt Disney World Ambassador Team and will serve from Jan. 1, 2011 – Dec. 31, 2012.
“Our Walt Disney World Ambassadors represent our resort, their fellow cast members, and the heritage, tradition and values of Walt Disney. It is a role filled with great significance… and great responsibilities,” said Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney World Resort. “Those chosen as Ambassadors are truly talented individuals who represent Disney Cast Members with purpose and grace, and bring the magic of Walt Disney World to the world at large.”
The 45-year tradition of the Disney Ambassador program is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those selected. Individuals named as Ambassadors accept a two-year-long assignment representing Walt Disney World Resort’s approximately 58,000 Cast Members and share the magic of Disney throughout the community and the world. Typical Ambassador responsibilities include making hospital visits and appearances with Disney characters, participating in community outreach events and recognizing Cast Members’ milestones and special achievements.
Every two years, thousands of Cast Members are invited to participate in the Ambassador recruitment process that starts with information sessions and ends with a ceremony announcing the new Ambassador team.
Following a two-month training, the 2011-2012 Ambassador team will start their year with a full schedule and can expect to participate in more than 3,500 events for various occasions.
Norman Vossschulte steps into the Ambassador role from Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where he currently is a Jedi Master at the Jedi Training Academy. Born in Berlin, Germany, Vossschulte has lived all over the world, holds baccalaureate degrees in physical science and biology and trained as an actor in New York City. His Disney career began in 2008 when he became a safari driver at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. Vossschulte went on to join the Guest Relations team at Epcot and eventually Entertainment.
Jennifer Mason currently oversees the Magic Kingdom Custodial team and ensures the place where dreams come true is kept clean. Born in Alabama, Mason grew up in Clearwater, Fla. and spent countless days at the Walt Disney World Resort with her family. After graduating from Florida State University, she became a member of the opening team of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park in 1998. Throughout her Disney career, she has served as a leader for several Operations teams at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
The great honor of being selected as a Disney Ambassador began during the 10th anniversary of Disneyland, when Walt Disney himself was overwhelmed with requests for appearances and media interviews. As a result, he selected the very first Ambassador in 1964 and the tradition has continued ever since.
Disneyland Resort cast members made magic for their favorite Southern California nonprofit organizations by donating more than $385,000. This month, cast members selected nearly 80 organizations – from local schools to social services – to receive grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.
The Anaheim Interfaith Shelter was one of the organizations that received a $5,000 grant. The shelter will use the funds to provide healthy food options at its on-site food pantry, helping to counter obesity among underprivileged children. The organization assists families in need of short-term support due to one-time events that cause homelessness.
“This grant will allow us to provide healthy food items to children in need, and we hope it will have a lasting impact by encouraging a healthy lifestyle,” said Colleen Smagala, executive director, Anaheim Interfaith Shelter. “We are thankful to Disneyland Resort cast members for their continued support and look forward to making a positive impact in partnership with them.”
Since its inception 13 years ago, cast members have contributed, managed and dispersed donations from the Disney VoluntEARS Community Fund to support innovative programs within nonprofit organizations. The fund has provided more than $3.7 million in grants to hundreds of organizations.
“This program is unique in that it is entirely funded by cast members who donate through regular payroll deductions or one-time donations,” said Jill Bolton, director, community relations, Disneyland Resort. “Each year, those who contribute have an opportunity to nominate their favorite nonprofit organizations to receive the grants.”
The program began when Resort cast members demonstrated a desire to contribute to their communities through nonprofit organizations with whom they were affiliated. The Disneyland Resort covers all administration costs associated with the fund so that 100 percent of cast member donations support the grants.
Taking to the stage for charitable good, the Encore! Cast Choir and Orchestra hit an all-time high recently by raising $36,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida. The volunteer ensemble of nearly 500 Disney Cast Members put in more than 47,000 hours to produce Dream Our Dreams, A Musical Tribute to the Legacy of Disney. Proceeds from the August 6-8 shows hosted at Epcot World ShowPlace were given to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida this week.
“We really appreciate everyone who came to see and support our shows and help us collect a substantial gift for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida,” said Encore! producer Bruce Light. “This $36,000 donation sets a record for us and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Walt Disney World Resort, Epcot, and our amazing Encore! Cast who volunteered their time to help us produce our most ambitious show to date.”
Encore! offers Cast Members an outlet for their creativity and a chance to showcase their talents while performing great music for worthy causes. The troupe, founded in 2002, has grown to include 275 singers, 90 instrumentalists, 50 dancers and a production team of 40. At least half of the group has jobs outside of entertainment and aren’t performers by trade. For all involved, it’s a labor of love that truly makes a difference for charities that benefit from it.
“We are thrilled and honored to be receiving such a generous donation from the Encore! Cast Choir and Orchestra,” said Tiffany Durr, development and event specialist for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida. “We rely on groups like Encore! and fundraising events to help us achieve our mission of granting wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions in our local community. Through their hard work and passion, Encore! is helping us share the power of a wish and for that we are deeply appreciative and sincerely grateful.”
Since its inception in 2002, Encore! has donated the funds from its ticket sales to local charities, raising more than $150,000 to date. Beneficiaries are determined by group vote; Encore! has chosen the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts as their 2011 beneficiary. Past Encore! beneficiaries include United Arts of Central Florida, SPCA of Central Florida, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and A Gift For Teaching. To learn more, visit www.encorecentral.org.
Photos courtesy of the Walt Disney World Resort.
Disney to Donate $627,050 to Central Florida Community in August in Recognition of Walt Disney World Resort VoluntEARS Work in 2009
Throughout August, The Walt Disney Company is donating $627,050 to the Central Florida community in recognition of the 251,000 hours given by Walt Disney World Resort VoluntEARS in 2009. From schools to shelters, Cast Members selected approximately 250 local non-profit agencies and community service groups to receive Disney’s EARS to You grants. Top recipients include Orange County Public Schools, A Better Life Pet Rescue and local chapters of the American Cancer Society.
“Disney VoluntEARS enjoy sharing their time and talents and have a vested interest in making Central Florida an even better place for all who live in our community,” said Nancy Gidusko, director of community relations, Walt Disney World Resort. “The collective contributions of these Cast Members are impressive and impactful; they are truly making a difference during a time when it’s needed most.”
The Walt Disney Company, through the Disney VoluntEARS program, provides opportunities for Cast Members to give their time and expertise toward positively impacting their communities. Each year, the Company recognizes VoluntEARS who donate at least 10 hours of service with EARS to You grants, which are financial contributions of up to $1,000 to the non-profit organization of their choice.
This year, Walt Disney World Resort awarded more than 800 EARS to You grants. Disney dollars will go toward a wide array of worthy causes including local youth development groups, health and social services programs, environmental causes, community theatres and pet rescue organizations.
Disney VoluntEAR Maria Kirkland received an EARS to You grant of $500 for her active support of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. “I feel very fortunate to be able to provide not only my time but a financial contribution to such a worthy organization,” said Kirkland. “It makes me feel so wonderful to know that I was able to help a family or individual to have one less stress in their life.”