Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ari & Idy Friedman help children with serious illnesses get trip of a lifetime.

For most people, four days doesn't seem very long. But Ari and Idy Friedman know exactly how much four days can mean to a sick child.
For the past 19 years, since their son Meir died at age 10 after fighting leukemia for 7 years, the Friedmans have organized an annual trip to Orlando, Fla., for about 50 children with serious illnesses. On Sunday, they will take 50 children and a number of volunteers to Florida for a trip that gives the boys and girls a chance to just be kids.
"Its an unbelievable fantasy." Mr. Friedman said. "We take them out of their harsh reality, and for four days they forget they are sick. We take them into this fantasy world, and it stays with them."
The Ohr Meir Foundation receives donations to pay for the costs of the Orlando trip, as well as smaller trips made throughout the year and the lending laptop program, which provides computers for children in the hospital. The Friedmans run the foundation from their home in Midwood, Brooklyn, and said 100% of the donations go to benefit the children. 
A trip to Orlando for even a family of four can be a logistical nightmare. Taking 50 kids with life-threating illnesses takes all year to coordinate and the attention to detail is exacting.
Every camper has his own counselor and oncologists, nurses and other medical professionals travel with the group (many of whom have been part of the trip for all 19 years), Care packages are sent to the children before they fly. Many of the children eat kosher food, so it's sent down in trucks a few days before the trip. Volunteers go down on Saturday to set up the rooms at resort and make sure everything is ready when the group arrives. "We change the decor every day, to coordinate with what they are doing that day" Mrs. Friedman said.
If tgey are going to the Magic KingdomEvery morning the children are met by face painters and balloon artists at breakfast, to help them get excited about the day's adventure.
There are concerts, private photo shoots and, of course, rides. There's a surprise shopping spree at Toys R Us. The Friedmans order 50 suitcases to make sure the children get home with everything they've been given while in Florida .... including a personalized photo album of their trip.
Despite all of this, the Friedmans say the best part of the trip is just getting out of the hospital. "They aren't the odd one out on this trip," Mrs. Friedman said. "They make friends that last for a lifetime."
Families are grateful to the couple, not only for taking their children to Florida, but also for giving the Friedmans stay in touch with the children and their families, attending their weddings and other events. If a child dies, they attend the services, and inevitably, the child's album from the trip will be on display, a reminder of that happy time.
But parents are most grateful for the Friedman's efforts to give their children a chance to forget about the hospital. They notice the change in their attitude immediately, even on their phone calls from Florida.
"One parent called me and said, "Thank you for giving my child back," Mr. Friedman said. "I haven't seen my child smile in three years." 

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