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This article first appeared in the PB August 1999 issue of Pro Builder.

A group of big-hearted builders is giving something valuable back to the community--new housing at a 51-acre resort for children with life-threatening illnesses.

The Master Custom Builder Council (MCBC), an organization of 35 of the top custom builders in central Florida, volunteered to build 21 new duplexes, or villas, in Kissimmee, Fla. for a nonprofit organization called Give Kids The World (GKTW). GKTW fulfills the dreams of terminally ill children whose last wish is to visit Walt Disney World and other attractions in the Orlando area. The GKTW Village has undergone a 16-acre expansion that was nearing completion when this article went to press in the summer of 1999.

Members of the Master Custom Builder Council built 21 new duplexes at Give Kids The World Village to house terminally ill children and their families while they enjoy a Florida vacation.

The idea for the Village was conceived in 1986 when Henri Landwirth, a well-known hotelier, was asked to help arrange a trip to Disney World for a young girl with leukemia. Sadly, the girl died before arrangements could be finalized, but Landwirth founded GKTW as the beginning of his quest to create a special place where a sick child’s wishes could come true.

GKTW solicited the aid of the MCBC in 1997 for the expansion project. As Dixie Goolsby, executive director of the council, recalls, the builders got caught up in the spirit of the project during a meeting at the Village restaurant: "Picture all of these big builders, sitting in kid-sized chairs, their knees up around their ears. They had divided themselves up into teams. I was walking around asking what could be donated, when suddenly one of the team captains jumped up and yelled, ‘We will build three villas!’" This statement started a domino effect and within a few minutes, each of the 21 proposed new villas was adopted by the MCBC teams.

The additional villas bring the total number of units to 98. Each is approximately 2300 square feet and includes a fully-stocked kitchen, television, VCR and other creature comforts. Seven architectural styles are featured: Florida Cracker, Adobe, Art Deco, Federal, Italian, New Orleans and Victorian. The designers are Benjamin P. Butera, AIA and Charlan Brock & Associates.

Gingerbread House restaurant is being expanded with a cupcake-shaped addition that will double the size of the kitchen and provide 120 more seats and a second buffet line.

The expansion was needed to accommodate the growing number of families that come to the Orlando area each year, according to Goolsby. During peak periods, nearly as many families have been staying in nearby hotels as at the village. GKTW board members decided to purchase property just north of the village, creating an opportunity to double its size and add more wheelchair-accessible facilities.

The project, known as World of Wonders, includes improvements and additions to the existing facilities; for example, one villa is being turned into an ice cream palace, and an addition to the Gingerbread House restaurant will enlarge the kitchen and provide more seating. Besides the additional housing, the new construction includes an interactive train station and a 120-seat movie theater. The Village also has a water park, a stocked fishing pond and a go-cart track, built by NASCAR. Frank Eller of Centex-Rooney Construction Co. is project manager.

The Avenue of Angels, a walkway that runs from the front of the restaurant through the expansion area, contains brick paving stones inscribed with the names of the many individuals who have helped GKTW fulfill its mission. Also part of the construction is the House of Hearts, a new entrance to the Village, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, that features a panoramic glass wall overlooking the Avenue of Angels.

Goolsby says the expansion will allow the Village to serve 7000 families annually. Visitors receive a six-day central Florida vacation including accommodations, attraction tickets, local transportation and meals, at no expense to them. Transportation to Orlando is arranged by foundations in their local communities. No family with a terminally ill child is ever turned away, and GKTW can arrange to bring them to the Village (or nearby lodging when the resort is full) within 24 hours of the initial phone call.

The list of partners in the $12 million expansion project, which was completely funded by corporate donations, is long and continues to grow. It includes corporations such as AMC Theaters, Budget Car Rental and Eastman Kodak; major manufacturers such as General Electric, Wilsonart International, Masonite Corp., Monier LifeTile, James Hardie Building Products and Schlage Lock Co., and thousands of suppliers, trade contractors and others that are contributing time, money and materials. Goolsby says the generosity of those supporters has saved over $1.5 million for the expansion area.

Since it opened in 1989, GKTW has brought more than 31,000 families from all 50 states and 45 countries to the Village.

"One hundred years from now, we will all be gone, but a part of what we have done here at the Village will last forever," says Goolsby.

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