The Bert Show charity takes flight
By Lynn Peisner
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Dr. Michelle Presley can’t contain her excitement.
“I have the best doctor job in Atlanta this weekend,” she said.
For the eighth year in a row, she’ll leading the 24-7 medical staff that accompanies the chronically or terminally ill children and their families chosen for a VIP trip to Disney World with Bert’s Big Adventure, a charity founded by All the Hits Q100’s Bert Weiss and his wife, Stacey.
“I get a lot of personal satisfaction being able to do something that has a long-term impact on these kids’ lives—something that doesn’t involve giving them a shot or sewing them up,” said Presley, who is a pediatric emergency room physician at Wellstar Kennestone.
The five-day vacation began Thursday morning with a live Bert Show broadcast from the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. The 13 families awoke there to a breakfast buffet and mini festival in the hotel ballroom with roaming costumed Disney characters, a Moon Bounce, play and dress-up areas and bag after bag of freebies.
It’s the first in a dizzying windfall of perks and rock-star-like special attention they’ll get over the next few days, designed as a break from the daily routines of dialysis, feeding tubes and wheelchair hoisting. A private jet to Orlando with the Bert Show crew, accommodations at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and a special-access tour of the Magic Kingdom awaited.
“Normally, these families wake up in the morning and their whole day is taking care of their child,” Bert Weiss said. “We say to them, you guys don’t have to do anything. Every question that you have is going to be answered ‘yes.’”
BBA received 130 applications this year from families in The Bert Show listening area whose special-needs child had never been to Disney and who proved economic need. Dr. Presley assists the Weisses and program director Amy Moosbrugger in selecting the best candidates for the trip.
“We’re looking for kids who may not have a normal life expectancy, and if they do, they probably won’t lead a normal life,” Dr. Presley said. Of the 85 children who have made the trip since 2003, 81 are still living.
“I feel that these kids’ lives are changed in such a significant way in those five days that I believe some higher power is affecting them,” Stacey Weiss said. “They’re not passing away. They’re getting better and living longer. I’m not saying that we’re the reason, but I think there’s something going on there that is making a difference.”
Except for a small recessionary dip last year, corporate sponsorship and donations — largely from The Bert Show listeners — have increased steadily.
But Bert Weiss said BBA does not plan to take more than 13 families at one time, focusing instead on expanding the quality of each trip.
Before the jet took off Thursday morning, one family was surprised on-air with an all-expenses paid wedding and another received a new wheelchair van.
The charity used to focus solely on the vacation, but Bert Weiss said he wanted the organization to do more. “We felt like there was a void. At the end of the trip we just said, bye, glad you had a great time. It felt empty.”
So in addition to hosting reunions for every group that’s taken the trip, BBA has been luring sponsorship and funneling other funds into year-round programming and support for current and former families that has included anything from paying a few bills, to replacing a computer one child required to communicate to finding a home for a former family’s dogs. “It used to be that we embraced the kids for a few days at Disney World, now we embrace them for their whole life,” Bert Weiss said.
Earlier this week, Weiss announced that Carter’s will underwrite a Fairy God Mother program, a volunteer-fueled support service for BBA families whose children are in the hospital.
“We didn’t have the vision nine years ago for any of this stuff. We just started the trips, and we’ve witnessed what the families needed.”
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