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It Takes a 'Dream Village'

September 23, 2010 By:
Nan Myers, JE Feature
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This was truly a Dream Village," says Shoshana Isenberg.

She is talking about the mini-vacation granted her family by the Sunshine Foundation (www. sunshinefoundation.org), an organization headquartered in Feasterville, whose stated "sole purpose is to answer the dreams of chronically ill, seriously ill, physically challenged and abused children whose families cannot fulfill their child's requests due to the financial strain that child's illness may cause."

Shira Miriam, 6, the Isenberg family's youngest, was born with a neurological impairment.

"She is healthy in the basic ways of sickness and health," explains her mother. "She doesn't speak, but she knows how to communicate. She is 6 years old, and is just taking her first steps. In many ways, she is similar to a much younger child."

When a friend, who also has a special-needs child, told Isenberg about the foundation program, she immediately signed up. "But at the time, there was a long wait, so I almost forgot about it!"

In an Orthodox family of eight children -- the oldest, a 24-year-old-son, had just married -- life is busy, and fancy vacations are virtually unheard of, she says, adding that the foundation's offer was wonderful.

The rules of the foundation allow for each family member who lives in the child's household to travel to the destination at no cost, with a typical visit lasting from Thursday to Monday.

And off to Dream Village in Florida went this family from Morrisville, N.J.

Accommodations Needed
There were some restrictions, however.

Says the mom: "We are an Orthodox family, which means we wouldn't be able to take advantage of the village or sites on [Shabbat]. So, they agreed to let us go from Monday to Friday instead."

And as far as food was concerned? The foundation was so accommodating, says Isenberg.

"They gave us an eating allowance, and there was a kosher restaurant near our place, which made it" easier to abide by kashrut, rather than just dining on homemade peanut-butter sandwiches, she says with a laugh.

Moshe Isenberg, Shira Miriam's father, was unable to go to the Dream Village. But Shoshana took their four youngest children who live at home -- Tzippy, Chaya Sara and Chana Zelda joined Shira Miriam on the trip.

"Miriam needs a lot of physical care, and my older daughter was able to help me," says the mom of 19-year-old Chana Zelda.

"They paid for everything," she gushes of the foundation.

"Disney World, in particular, is amazing. It has so much happiness," says Isenberg, who is a psychologist.

Challenges were met. "Miriam is big enough that she needed what they call a stroller wheelchair," says Isenberg. "As a result, we had minimal lines and lots of accommodation."

The Sunshine Foundation was started in 1976 by Bill Sample, who, at the time, was a Philadelphia police officer, stationed on protective duty at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.

With the help of a small group of volunteers, the Sunshine Foundation was up and running. Today, Sample's wife, Kate, runs the group. There are now 14 chapters nationwide.

"Depending on our funding and donations, we can handle 300-plus families a year," explains Kate Sample. "Although the majority want to go to our Dream Village, there are also those who" opt for creating the dream trip of their choice.

"The Dream Village is designed to be away from the hustle and bustle, and gives the family a respite. We also provide a rental car, electrical wheelchair or a van with a lift. We can also arrange for oxygen or other special devices. Nine of 10 families would not have the option to have a vacation like this because they could not afford it.

"Everyone enjoys," says Sample. "You can see it in a child's eyes that they are so happy to see their family happy." 

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