Once a year, 192 deserving children from all over the UK, accompanied by a team of medical carers, board a chartered Boeing 747 and head to Florida to spend 10 magical days of fun and excitement. Many children could not undertake such a trip without the support of the army of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and non-medical volunteers who care for the children 24 hours a day.
Dreamflight is not just a holiday, it does something that medicine can't. The children leave their families behind giving them an opportunity to discover independence, confidence, and a whole new outlook on life. Often for the first time, these children realise that they are not alone, and they are not the odd one out. They see children around them who have also suffered, they gain perspective, and experience things they never thought possible.
Dreamflight children have gone on to amazing achievements. In 2008, eight of the returning Paralympians from Beijing, many of them medal-winning, had been Dreamflight children citing the trip as a turning point for them.
Dreamflight children are between the ages of 8 and 14 and are currently, or have been, seriously ill. Our aim is to select deserving children who will gain a real and lasting benefit from Dreamflight. We look for children whose problems have made their lives so difficult, so unpleasant, that they simply deserve a special treat like this.
We invite medical professions throughout the UK to nominate children who they feel will benefit from Dreamflight. Our Medical Director - a paediatric consultant - ultimately decides who will be offered a place on the trip, but we don't let medical problems get in the way of having fun.
Dreamflight children are arranged into 12 regional groups from across the UK, each with eight boys and eight girls. There is an adult escort for every two children and each group is headed up by a Group Leader who is a very experienced Dreamflight volunteer. The escorts in each group always include a doctor, a physiotherapist, and three nurses, with the remaining places being filled by non-medical helpers, people who have supported Dreamflight throughout the year.
On arrival in Florida the number of adult escorts increases as we are joined by our large team of American friends and from 9.00pm – 6am Dreamflight’s own team of night-nurses takes over to look after the children through the night.
The total cost of the Dreamflight trip each year is in the region of £750,000 which breaks down at approximately £3,500 per child. Dreamflight is funded solely by voluntary contributions meaning our lifeblood is our army of volunteer fundraisers, for without these people the trips would just not be possible.
The operations are conducted year-round from our office in Amersham which is manned by only four full-time employees and one part-time, supported by hundreds of volunteers from all walks of life. Dreamflight mobilises more than 300 volunteers each year for the trip itself, many from the medical profession, who give up their time and expertise to care for Dreamflight children. Dreamflight has been able to attract some corporate sponsorship which has enabled the charity to be placed on a more stable financial footing, but we still rely heavily on individual fund-raising efforts. As the charity has such minimal overheads, any financial support really does go directly to the children, and therefore every bit of support is tangible in terms of the benefits to a Dreamflight child.
As the parents leave their children in the care of Dreamflight, it's time to make new friends at the pre-departure celebrity party. The party atmosphere onboard the flight sets the scene for the week to come. On arrival in Orlando, the drive from the airport to the hotel is straight out of the movies, with our friends from the Orange County Police closing all the roads, and giving our convoy of coaches a high speed escort straight to our hotel.
The days that follow are sheer magic; there's something for everyone. Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and SeaWorld, all give the children a chance to immerse themselves in their holiday of a lifetime - the fun, thrills, adventure, and excitement on show, has every child wide-eyed and delighted.Then comes a firm favourite – Discovery Cove, where all the children experience the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of swimming with dolphins. It’s hard to imagine anything more touching than the joy on the children’s faces as they meet these gentle, friendly creatures.
It can be difficult for an outsider to believe that the happy and lively children they see laughing their way around the theme parks have any problems in life. But find time to talk to them about their life experiences and you can't help but be impressed and humbled by their courage. Those who do get the chance to meet these children, and hear their stories, understand exactly what Dreamflight means to them.