They come from some of the saddest environments imaginable.
This summer, though, these children — victims of abuse, neglect, poverty and other worries that took them from their homes — got to spend time at one of the happiest places on earth.
More than 50 children and sponsors from the New Mexico Christian Children’s Home in Portales were treated to a trip to Disneyland, thanks to a benefactor who wanted the children to have positive, happy memories to help replace the dark times they had experienced so far in life.
“It’s one of the greatest things that has ever happened to us,” said Rod Self, assistant director at the children’s home, and a staff member since 1976.
The donor, who asked that his name not be publicized, visited New Mexico Christian Children’s Home for the first time earlier this year. He attended the home’s annual musical production, Self said, and was “touched by the misfortunate circumstances that had brought them here, while at the same time marveling at how resilient they were.”
He contacted the home and said he wanted to give the children a vacation, something Self said many had never experienced.
“And never anything like this,” he added. “This will be a lifetime memory for them all.”
Charles Anderson, executive director at New Mexico Christian Children’s Home, said those who work with the children “felt extremely blessed by this donor.”
“We do need people’s help with our regular operating expenses,” Anderson said, “especially in recessionary times. This donor just wanted to make such a special memory for our children.”
Self said administrators at the home spent months planning and preparing for the children’s trip, which cost roughly $24,000. They chartered a bus for the trip, and coordinated meal and lodging stops in advance.
Plain, neon-colored t-shirts in different shades were purchased for everyone so group members could be spotted easily in a crowd.
On the two-day trek to Anaheim, Calif., the group stopped in their benefactor’s hometown — which happened to be on the way — and met him at a local fast-food restaurant.
Their excited faces and enthusiastic “thank you’s!” conveyed their appreciation well, Self said.
The group, comprised of children in the second grade and older, spent three days at Disneyland, Self said, clicking away on cameras, riding attractions and shaking hands with some of their favorite characters.
Though they’re back at their group homes now, Self said the children are still talking about their “trip of a lifetime” and sharing photos and memories is a favorite pastime.
“It was an extraordinary idea and an incredible gift,” he said. “It gave these children a chance to experience something magical.”