Dreams really do come true. The Disney character Jiminy Cricket knows it, and now Joshua Balkovec of Bridgeville knows it, too.
Joshua, 7, who has been diagnosed with complex congenital heart disease, recently returned from a seven-day dream vacation -- his first trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
His wish was granted by Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia, a nonprofit organization that fulfills wishes for children, ages 2 1/2 to 18, who have life-threatening medical conditions.
Upon his arrival, Joshua received a pin bearing his name and a hat identifying him as a wish kid so that park staff could address him by name. He also received preferential treatment throughout his stay, including visits from Disney characters, special seating at shows, photo passes, free ice cream and special passes to cut down on wait times for rides.
While there, Joshua and his family visited several central Florida tourist destinations -- the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Sea World and Universal Studios.
"It was amazing. It was the best vacation ever," Joshua's mother, Melissa Balkovec, said. "Their sole purpose is to make sure that the kids are in a perfectly blissful, amazing place. It's all about taking any worries or stresses away. I can't say enough about it."
His father, Bob Balkovec, agreed and described it as a dream vacation during which they were treated as VIPs.
"We didn't realize the warm reception that we were going to get," he said. "We figured people would be nice, but we didn't expect them to go above and beyond."
The family, including Joshua's 10-year-old sister Peyton, stayed at Give Kids the World Village, a 70-acre, nonprofit "storybook" resort near Walt Disney World for children facing life-threatening illnesses. The resort features a gingerbread house restaurant, an Ice Cream Palace, and the Castle of Miracles.
During his stay at the village, Joshua received a star on which he wrote his name that will be permanently placed on the ceiling of the tower at the Castle of Miracles. He also made a wish pillow that has a pocket for him to place his wishes in at night.
At the Ice Cream Palace, the family splurged one morning and indulged in ice cream for breakfast.
Every evening, the family returned to the village to find items for the children, such as postcards, stuffed animals, Silly Bandz and a Candy Land board game.
"My husband and I would just look at each other and tear up because we were so overwhelmed by the people that work there and the people that contribute money to make these wishes possible for these kids," she said. "It's overwhelming."
Joshua said his favorite activities included the Despicable Me ride and the Monsters Inc. comedy show at Universal Studios, where his father was called on stage as part of the performance.
Make-A-Wish believes that grantiing a wish provides an experience that fills children and their families with a feeling of hope and invigorates them with a joy for living.
Mr. Balkovec said that joy for living could be seen in Joshua, who hopped the entire week, something he does to indicate he is happy.
"It was great to see him happy and not have to worry about school or going to the doctor's," he said. "Just to see him have as much fun as he possibly could was great."neigh_west
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.