By Leslie Wiggins
LAWRENCEVILLE — Twelve terminally ill area children took a break from seeing their doctors in exchange for the famous faces of Minnie and Mickey at Disney World over the weekend. Two out of the 12 children who won the trip were Gwinnett residents — Huey Logan, 9, and Courtney Hickman, 8.
They and their families were selected to go on an all-expenses-paid dream vacation by Bert’s Big Adventure, a nonprofit organization founded by Bert Weiss, host of Q100.5’s morning radio show. Bert and his wife, Stacey, started the nonprofit in 2002 so local children, ages 5 to 12, with terminal or chronic illnesses and their families could spend a magical weekend at Disney. Children and their families are selected based on financial need and medical conditions, which are evaluated by a medical committee.
Taking a break
Too busy caring for Huey — who has myotonic dystrophy, a condition making it hard for him to walk — grandparents Sheila and Hugh Logan hadn’t taken a vacation in more than seven years. When it came time to pack for the trip they were so excited they overpacked and split their suitcase. “We had to use pliers to zip it up,” said Sheila, laughing. “Well, it broke. Then in the morning we had to go to Wal-Mart to buy a new one.”
When Courtney’s mom found out they would spend four nights in a five-star hotel, be ushered to the front of the line for every ride and get to spend quality time with their 8-year-old, she said she was overjoyed. “Anything to make (Courtney) happy while she can be is more than I can ask for,” said Holly Liliac of her daughter, who has cystic fibrosis. “It’s really exciting (to go on a vacation) when you have a sick kid. I’m absolutely thrilled.” Courtney can focus on all the Disney princesses, which are her favorite characters, instead of thinking about oxygen tanks, breathing treatments, oral medications and nebulizers.
Sheila said Huey is looking forward to Mickey and Donald, but Sheila is looking forward to another Disney classic. “I’m going to ride Space Mountain,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do it and that’s the one ride I’m riding.” Hugh, on the other hand, is just interested in seeing what’s behind the fences. A former resident of Orlando, he never had the chance to venture past the front gates. “I don’t know what to expect,” he said.
The five-star treatment
“We have a lot of cool things the kids don’t know about,” Weiss said about the trip. A visit from Gwinnett native and Braves player Jeff Francoeur, five-star dinners and hotels, fireworks, prizes and parades were just a few of the things on Weiss’ list.
The bon voyage party on Thursday alone was enough to make a kid’s mind swirl. Held at the Renaissance Hotel by the airport, Weiss hosted his morning show live. Children were invited to speak on the radio, play bongo drums, slide down an inflatable slide, eat a breakfast feast and play with their gifts. Each child received a book bag with their name stenciled on it and filled to the brim with stickers, markers, coloring books and toys. “I am amazed at the generosity of all these people who give their time and money to make kids happy,” Liliac said at Weiss’ bon voyage party last Thursday as Courtney played with princess stickers she found in her book bag. While trying to open her new digital camera, courtesy Bert’s Big Adventure, she said, “I don’t think it can get any better.” The Bert Show supplied each family with digital cameras, printers, carrying cases, paper and $700 in gift certificates.
Just to see them smile
Exchanging their pantsuites and dress skirts for Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Snow White costumes, staff from NetBank in Alpharetta put the kids at the bon voyage party in a Disney frame of mind before they flew to Florida. “They made us sit like this in work the other day,” said Tinkerbell. “It was torture. How can you have a meeting with wings?” Branch manager Cindy Powers has been heading up fundraisers at NetBank for the past two years to help finance the Disney trip and she’s not quite finished. “We’ll be having a build-your-own-sundae and a “top-less” car wash where we wash the bottom part of the car and you pay us to do the top,” she said. Powers works closely with Bert’s Big Adventure co-founder Stacey Weiss throughout the year to create new ways to raise money. This year Bert’s Big Adventure will be Net Bank’s official corporate charity.
Before Bert Weiss began hosting “The Bert Show” on Q100.5, the DJ worked at a radio station in Dallas. Every year, the station sponsored a Disney trip for chronically and terminally ill children and their families. Weiss decided if he ever got his own show, he’d organize the same kind of vacation. “I just think it’s one magical experience that’s a common bond with all children,” he said. “Every child should go to Disney World.”
(This article originally appeared in the Gwinnett Daily Post on 03/01/2006)