Bobby Forey and his mom, Teresa, won’t soon forget the group that gave them a dream weekend in one of the happiest places on earth.
The 8½-year-old Canton resident joined seven other chronically and/or terminally ill metro Atlanta children last weekend on a magical journey to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Bert’s Big Adventure, a nonprofit organization started in 2002 by Atlanta disc jockey Bert Weiss of All the Hits Q100.5 and his wife, Stacey, sponsored its second annual all-expenses-paid trip to the Magic Kingdom. The trip gives children ages 5 to 12 with serious medical conditions and their families a vacation they would never forget and otherwise couldn’t afford.
The trip included hotel accommodations, air fare on Delta Air Lines, meals and park passes for everyone. A medical staff and radio personalities from “The Bert Show,” which airs weekdays from 5:30 to 10 a.m., also accompanied the group.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 12,” said Weiss, 36, who came to Atlanta from Dallas, Texas, in 2001 to host “The Bert Show” on Q100.5. “Disney bent over backwards this year to make sure these kids had a great time. There were a couple of VIP tours open to them, and they allowed all the kids to be grand marshals in the parade. Normally that’s reserved for celebrities and politicians. It was really cool for the kids.”
The Atlanta resident said he got “a lot of satisfaction watching these kids transform” over the course of the trip, which included 46 people.
“The first couple of hours, Bobby was a shy kid,” he said. “He didn’t really know what to expect. But after a little while, he really opened up. We found out he wants to be a pilot, so he got to go to the Delta Air Lines cockpit. After a while, we couldn’t keep that kid quiet. It was the same case with the other kids.”
Weiss said Bobby, who has Marfan Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the connective tissue that holds the body together and provides a framework for growth and development, is “a great kid, he really is.”
“Everybody loved that kid,” he said. “He and his mom seemed to have a really good time. He was one of the kids who seemed to bond with the other kids. Everybody wanted to hang out with Bobby.”
The trip helped the children escape, at least temporarily, some of the problems they face every day, Weiss said.
“They’re not only dealing with their illness, but a lot of them come from heavy environments,” he said. “There’s not a lot to wake up and be happy about. But by the second or third day, you can see they’ve left Atlanta behind and are really enjoying Disney World for what it is.”
Weiss said the idea for Bert’s Big Adventure came after he went to Disney World in 1996 with a group of children that was sponsored by a nonprofit organization in Dallas.
“It took me a weekend at Walt Disney World with these kids to realize how blessed my life had been,” he said. “Most of these kids had never lived a day in their life that wasn’t a struggle.”
For some, just getting out of bed in the morning or going to the bathroom is a major challenge each day, Weiss said. Others have “never known a life outside a wheelchair or walked a step without the aid of crutches or braces.”
“Others lived a normal, healthy child’s life for some time but were stricken with a terminal disease that has robbed them of the most precious commodity of all – time,” he said.
When Weiss came to Atlanta, he wanted to continue the work he had been a part of in Dallas.
“I was so touched by what I saw that I said if I ever got to host my own show, I was going to do a trip like that,” he said. “When Atlanta came calling, one of the first things I wanted to do was to make good on that.”
To be considered for the trip, children must be nominated, must live in the Q100.5 listening area and must have never been to Disney World before.
A medical committee chooses the lucky participants based on their medical conditions and financial need, among other criteria. This year’s group was chosen from 28 applicants.
“The kids have to not be able to afford a trip like this themselves,” Weiss said.
Nominations are taken year-round, but the winners for next year’s excursion probably will be selected in November.
“We’re doing the trip earlier next year to avoid some of the spring-break crowds,” Weiss said.
To download an application or for information about the organization, visit the Web site at www.bertsbigadventure.org.
[By Donna Harris. From the Cherokee Tribune: 3/21/04 ]