By Ryan Jordan
Bartow Neighbor Staff Writer
Alyssa Leonard may not have had a whole lot to smile about in the last couple of years. But she and her family will have memorable moments of fun and laughter to share as they embark on a very special trip.
The 7-year-old Taylorsville girl and her family will leave Thursday for an all-expense paid trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. through the generosity of Bert’s Big Adventure.
The journey to the Magic Kingdom comes as uplifting news to Alyssa, who in 2005 was diagnosed with brainstem glioma, a cancerous tumor that affects the midbrain.
Alyssa was also diagnosed with neurofibromatosis (NF) a genetic disease that can cause numerous soft tumors to develop beneath the skin and throughout the nervous system.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” said Angela Leonard, Alyssa’s mother, “You have your ups and your downs.”
Mrs. Leonard added that the up-coming trip to DisneyWorld will bring much needed relief for the whole family, who including father, John, and siblings Kylie, 16, Kazzi 16, Jinnia, 14, and Rachel, 16.
“It will give us time to just take things off our minds, to just relax and be family and enjoy each other.”
The idea for Bert’s Big Adventure, a nonprofit organization created for Atlanta children with terminal or chronic illnesses, began when Atlanta radio personality Bert Weiss, from the “The Bert Show” on Q100.5, took a trip to Disney World with 100 children for Kidd’s Kids, a nonprofit organization from Dallas, Texas.
“Most of these kids had never lived a day in their life that wasn’t a struggle,” Weiss said, “For some of them, telling mom and dad that they love them will never happen.”
Inspired by his trip, Weiss and his wife, Stacey, decided to start Bert’s Big Adventure, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that selects 14 Atlanta area children every year to go Disney World. All expenses, including travel, accommodations and meals are paid during the weekend in Orlando.
The organization depends on radio listeners for both donations and for selecting children within listening range of the program to go on the trip.
According to Weiss, the trip is meant to reinforce the times that really matter.
“These are the moments that Bert’s Big Adventure wants to provide each year,” Weiss said, “Smiling together when they meet Mickey for the first time. Laughing uncontrollably together on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups.”
It’s these moments that Alyssa Leonard looks forward to.
” I want to have a tea party with all the characters,” she said.