NBC12 News Today anchor Sarah Bloom and her family are getting the chance to make lifelong memories thanks to Baking Memories 4 Kids, a New York-based nonprofit. The family will be visiting Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando next year, staying at Give Kids the World Resort.
“Managing a trip like this would be overwhelming,” says Bloom, who has a child with medical needs. “We were so touched [to be chosen to receive the trip].”
Founded by cancer survivor, Frank Squeo, Baking Memories 4 Kids provides children with critical illnesses and their families an all-expense paid dream vacation to all the theme parks in Orlando, Florida, where they can reconnect and re-energize for the challenging journey that lies ahead.
“Florida is the perfect fit,” Squeo says. “I have always loved Disney myself. In all, there are about fifteen amusement parks they can go to whenever they want.”
The organization partners with the Give Kids the World, an 89-acre storybook-like resort in Central Florida where children with serious health challenges and their families are treated to weeklong, cost-free vacations.
“The resort houses the family and meals are provided,” says Squeo. “The only thing they have to [pay for] is souvenirs.”
The resort is “an amazing partner for us,” he adds. “It’s a magical place. They have their own rides, themes of the day, ice cream palace, and more. It’s an amazing village where only special needs families get to stay.”
The Mission of Baking Memories 4 Kids
Baking Memories 4 Kids has treated more than 270 families from thirty-five states with a vacation. Ten families from Richmond and about twelve families from the Charlottesville area have have been recipients.
Ashley Michael’s family was nominated for the vacation last year by a neighbor who was aware of the program. Michael’s son Luke – the youngest of four siblings – has a profound anoxic brain injury, the result of a non-fatal drowning at the age of two caused Luke to go into complete cardiac arrest for at least 25 minutes.
“We spent thirty days in the pediatric intensive care unit at University Hospital at UVA, then another eight weeks at Johns Hopkins and Kennedy Krieger Institute before coming home and starting our marathon of a journey. He has made tremendous improvements with a lot of hard work and diligent therapy,” says Michael who lives in Louisa. “He was blind, unable to swallow, unable to hold his neck up, move his arms, follow directions, etc. Now he is happy, crawls all over the place, is starting to take independent steps, goes to school daily, and can [be fed] by mouth.”
The Michaels’ experience at Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios Florida Theme Park, and Give Kids the World was “absolutely incredible,” Michael says. “We were treated like royalty at every turn. Luke was able to join in for all of the fun. We didn’t have to divide and conquer like we normally do because it was too overwhelming for Luke or not accessible.”
The resort would hand deliver dinners and lunches to the family’s townhome. “They had activities at the resort (like video games, mini carnival games, mini golf) that we could all partake in,” says Michael. “The kids were showered with gifts every morning that were waiting on our porch. They even put birthday balloons and presents out for Luke and Bayleigh [Luke’s oldest sibling] for their individual birthdays.”
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” she adds. “As parents of a profoundly special needs child who have had to take back seats and hold our children back from things on a regular basis because of Luke’s disabilities, this was an experience like no other. Our whole family could be participate and just focus on spending time together.”
Support Families and Baking Memories 4 Kids
Squeo raises funds for the trips through the sale of chocolate chip cookies. Since its inception, Baking Memories 4 Kids has sold over 2 million made-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies. It is the Guinness World record holder for most cookies baked in one hour.
When it’s time to bake, the organization brings in about 130 volunteers to make 85,000 cookies a day. All proceeds from the sale of the cookies, less the cost of ingredients, go directly to funding the trips.
Volunteers bake from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. The cookies ship free via UPS and are available online at BakingMemories4Kids.com through Christmas Eve.
While volunteers are working, Squeo reads the thank-you notes he receives from families. “They tell us what we gave them is priceless,” he says, adding that in some cases a child may have a terminal illness and it may be the last vacation the family takes together. “How powerful is that as a gift!”
Bloom and her family are looking forward to their trip next year. “The only thing we have to do is go have fun as a family,” she says. “This is a healing opportunity for us to go on vacation as a family.”
Bloom hopes people will get to learn more about Baking Memories 4 Kids and the work it is doing for families. “It’s so life changing for so many families,” she says. “The cookies are delicious, and maybe you know a family who could benefit from a break and a vacation like this. I hope you will consider nominating them as well.”