Nov. 29, 2006 The black-and-white Disney Magic, with its bright red smokestacks, pulled into St. Thomas harbor Wednesday morning with some special people aboard set on a very important mission.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse, of course, were aboard, but they took 11 young "VoluntEars" with them and headed out to Bolongo Bay Beach Club with gifts and surprises for 80 St. Thomas youngsters who were anxiously awaiting their arrival.
Shepherded by representatives of the Human Services Department, the children amused themselves singing Jingle Bells and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star until the Disney stars appeared.
There wasnt a sound in the room as Minnie and Mickey — all dolled up in big red shoes and big black ears — appeared. Then joy broke out untended as the youngsters cheered and reached out to actually touch their idols. Go, Minnie, Go Mickey, they chanted. Look, look, Mickey is holding my hand, one of the first youngsters in line said. He is hugging me, another one said, one-upping his pal. The youngsters received gifts and colorful cardboard hats with Disney characters adorning them.
The Disney folk distributed early Christmas gifts to the 80 or so children, who were so excited they didnt seem to care what they got, as long as they were recognized by Mr. and Mrs. Mouse.
Its an annual affair sponsored by Disney Cruise Line, the local Tourism Department and the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. Mark Witko, a very youthful looking Disney marketing manager, was surrounded by the VoluntEars wearing bright yellow T-shirts, and more kids than he likely knew what to do with.
"Weve been doing this since 2000, Witko said, apparently unfazed. Its a great program. We go to seven other Caribbean ports, and our home port in Port Canaveral, Fla. Witko supervises the 11 helpers, who are members of the shipboard youth activities crew.
The day had a more serious aspect. The children are all from various Human Services programs. Some are from Head Start, Ellisa Niles, HS licencing specialist, said, but many are from our Foster Care program. Niles interviews prospective foster parents to determine their suitability.
The Foster Care program is in need of donations, Janice Turnbull-Krigger, Children, Youth and Families assistant administrator, said.
Both women said the islands Foster Care program could use gifts, especially now at the holiday season. There are about 114 children in foster care now, Turnbull-Krigger said. We have downsized some, so that is a good thing. The children come from all sorts of backgrounds, she said. Some are from dysfunctional families, some from families where illness has prevented the parents from caring for them; others from broken homes.
Both Niles and Turnbull-Krigger were enthusiastic about the Foster Care Thanksgiving this year. We served 23 families, Turnbull-Krigger said. She said St. John residents contributed to the success of the holiday, too.
She explained that for $50, individuals can supply a meal for a family for the Christmas holiday. It buys a $50 gift certificate from Pueblo, she said. The store cooks and prepares everything, so you dont have to do any preparation.
She said donations may be dropped off at the old Knud Hansen complex. The program needs food, especially toiletries. Simple things like shampoo or toothpaste are always needed, said Niles .
She said persons can drive up and place items in a box in front of the complex. You dont even have to get out of your car, Niles stressed. Anyone needing more information on the program can contact representatives at 774-4393. The box will be at the entrance to the complex from Dec. 1 through Dec. 15, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
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