Give Kids the World Village has been a part of the fabric of Central Florida for many years, offering a whimsical and joyful respite for families of children with life threatening illnesses. My first volunteer experience at Give Kids the World was in 2004. While there are years since then that time and money were pinched and volunteering put on a back burner, the hours I’ve spent and families I’ve met (and still meet on my current shifts) are often unforgettable.
Give Kids the World Village
Give Kids the World has seen changes through the years, but none like the Extreme Village Makeover that has invaded the property over the 2 weeks between January 12th and 24th. The brainchild of Gary Rall, Vice President of Resort Renovation & Design at Wyndham Vacation Ownership and his son Zach, the estimated 2-3 year project to renovate 100 villas at Give Kids the World will be finished in 2 weeks time. Rall constantly gives praise to the contractors from around the country, volunteers, donors and the town of Kissimmee. Many corporations have a hand in supporting Give Kids the World, and the Walt Disney Company is renovating the Administration Building and is sending Ty Pennington down for the big reveal to be televised on Good Morning America on January 24th, 2014.
I sat down with Rall and Mark Hoewing, Public Relations Manager for Give Kids the World, to talk about Extreme Village Makeover – here is a short video of the interview and work being done in the Village, and the full interview written below.
MS: How did the idea of Extreme Village Makeover come about?
Rall: That is actually an easy one. I was introduced to the Village about 2 years ago, and I started out adopting a villa. Coming out here periodically and meeting with Michael Bausman (Director of Facilities Resources for Give Kids the World), he told me about the renovation program where they were going to renovate 140 villas, starting with the first 40. We started talking about it, and he told me that it was going to take approximately 10 months to renovate all 40. I told him that I could probably help, and do it in a shorter period of time. At that time, I didn’t really think of how we were going to accomplish it and what it was to renovate the last 100 villas. That night, I was telling my family about the plan. They (Give Kids the World) already had 40 villas scheduled to be renovated and they had the last 100 to renovate over the next 2-3 years. It was just a casual dinner conversation, and my son Zach said, “Hey dad, how many units do you guys renovate at Wyndham?” and I said, “about 5000 a year”. He said, “You could probably do those hundred in one week, then!” And that is actually the original inspiration for it. One week is probably a little aggressive, so I doubled that and we are doing it in 2 weeks now.
Pallets of Building Materials
MS: That is pretty amazing! I’ve seen some refurbished villas, they remind me of staying at a really beautiful hotel (the old villas feel more like homes). It’s very exciting to see the families getting something updated.
As of now (Friday, January 17th, 2014), the villa progress is almost halfway. How many workers does it take to make this work?
Newly Painted Villa
Rall: That is a great question. I would say that right now, we are averaging, because we have multiple crew shifts working around the clock….some people are working 2 shifts, others are working 2 1/2 shifts for 20 hours per day, probably between 400 and 500 actual contractors. We also have a tremendous amount of volunteers that are helping to support that effort. And I know just from the Wyndham volunteers, we have about 600 from our company that have been coming out and will continue to come out until the end of the project.
Villa in Fantasy Forest
MS: Is the same work happening in each villa at the same time?
Rall: The scope of work is almost identical. The villas were built in phases, so some of them are slightly different. The end result as far as fit and finish will be identical. The sequencing of tasks and activities are slightly different, each contractor is doing their particular villas just slightly different than the others. But they will all end up in the same place here very shortly.
Kitchen Under Renovation
This has been a total team effort. I could never have done it alone, the steering company alone has over a dozen people, each heading up different facets of the project. From logistics to safety & security to actual construction, FF&E, transportation and warehousing, there is a tremendous amount of things you don’t necessarily see when activity is going on in the villas.
New Tub in Villa
MS: When did the idea for Extreme Village Makeover come about?
Rall: I would say it was probably a little over a year ago. Pam (Pamela Landwirth, Give Kids the World President) and I officially announced it in February of last year. So…I would say that we’ve only really been working on it for about 11 months. We put it together pretty quickly.
MS: What other areas of the Village are seeing change – and to Gary, are you working mostly on the villas, or the rest of the Village too?
Rall: There are several other projects going on while we are doing the villas themselves. There is a painting, a mural project going on. We’re not overseeing that, but that is over near one of the pool areas. There is also some exterior painting and other exterior work, railings…concrete driveway work that is being done, not just on our villas, but on some of the villas that are already renovated. We are overseeing a lot of that work. But there are several other projects that we are not part of, but we are helping to support and make sure we are all coordinating. There is a lot of activity, and we all have to play in the same sandbox. We want to make sure we are staying out of each other’s way.
Give Kids the World Villa
Hoewing: One of the things we did when we first started talking about the project was that we took a look at things like the convenience to the families, and the safety of the families. You can imagine that when you are upgrading villas for a 10 month period, or for a 2 year period, whatever it is, it is a lot of trucks and heavy equipment. It’s really kind of a dangerous environment for children to be around. So it made sense when Gary brought the idea to us, because of the safety of the families and the convenience, but also from an economic standpoint. While we had all these projects ongoing, we also decided to do things like redoing the pool where the remote control boats are outside of Amberville, little projects like that that would inconvenience the families. Since the Village is closed down for two weeks, we are getting all those done at one time.
Work Progresses in Give Kids the World Village
We also talked to our friends at ABC and Disney. Actually, we went to ABC first with the Extreme Village Makeover name, because Extreme Home Makeover was their show. We asked them if we could use the name, and they said “You can use the name, but let us come back and take a look at what you are doing”. So when they came over, they decided to get involved in helping us…not with that project, but with what used to be the Administration Building, which is where the staff used to be. And one of the things we struggled with over the last few years is we have such a large volunteer base, we don’t have a good place for them to congregate and register for the day, that kind of thing. And so we’ve been using a villa for that, and with 1400 volunteer shifts every week, it is a very small environment for that many people to come in and register and there is no place for them to congregate. A part of the new building Disney is doing for us, which was the Administration building – the new building will be called the Memory Makers Building – and part of that will be a volunteer services area where volunteers can register, sign up for shifts. There will also be a little place for a gift shop. The Memory Makers part of the building will be an area where the families can go in and record memories of their trip so that maybe 10 years down the road, they can come back and see what they said and hear what they said. It is a beautiful building, and Disney will have that finished up by next week.
Villa in Fantasy Forest
Good Morning America is also coming down, they will be here next Friday. Ty Pennington and some of the Good Morning America crew will be here. They will be teasing during the show, and at the end of the show, they will do a bus reveal of that building. So we are thankful to Disney as well. We are certainly thankful to Wyndham Vacation Ownership for all the leadership they’ve taken on with Extreme Village Makeover as a project. It is amazing what we will get done. One of the things we have struggled with for quite a long time is that the villas were built in stages. If you’ve ever been to Fantasy Forest, they are beautiful villas, all brand new. So when you put a family there, and then you put a family in a villa that is 25 years old, you get a sinking feeling in your heart. Now, with this Extreme Village Makeover, everything is going to be brand new – all top quality product.
This Home Renovation Was 50% Complete!
MS: I thought that too, when touring the new villas. It’s great that now everyone will be able to have the same experience inside the villas.
Rall told me how the contractors are all competitive and each one would like to finish first with high quality work (there is a meter in front of each villa showing the progress). But yet, the contractors are also collaborating, with more teamwork than Rall has ever seen in the industry. He related a story about Pam Landwirth talking with one contractor about why he was out there, and he said “It’s for the kids”. Rail continued, “At the end of the day, it’s for the kids“, and that is why everyone is there. “Yes, we’re friendly competitors, but we’re going to help each other get it done, because we know what the end result is…to have the families come in at the end of the project, and have a phenomenal time together”.
Another plus is that anything that can be reused and recycled is. Rall and his team are making the project as green as they can. Through working with the city of Kissimmee, items such as old tile are being recycled into new projects (crushing up the tile to make base material). And the cost per villa has gone down immensely with the Extreme Village Makeover, saving the Village as much as 1.2 million dollars with buying in bulk and using the same materials on each house (the Village has been built in phases and different materials were used for each phase).
Gary Rall From Wyndham
The contractors are working around the clock, and Rall said he’s had 3-4 hours of sleep most nights. Give Kids the World is giving the contractors the “Give Kids the World treatment”, with 3-4 meals per day and ice cream from the Ice Cream Palace (along with carts delivering snacks). One of the things I really like about Give Kids the World is that everyone pitches in – Give Kids the World President Pamela Landwirth served out food and ice cream during a GKTW team dinner I attended a week ago. In similar fashion, she oversees everything that goes on with the contractors – right down to the ice cream. Rall said that every single night that they’d been there, a group of contractors didn’t make it to the Ice Cream Palace as it closes at 8:00 p.m. Landwirth asked the group what they thought of the ice cream, and one worker said “we don’t know, we get out of here too late and it’s closed”. Landwirth said, “I’ll take care of that, I know someone”. She was the person, she had the key and “she made the banana splits for everyone”.
Living Room in Renovated Villa
Bedroom in Renovated Villa
Rall is proud of his own Wyndham volunteers, some of whom had come in the previous evening to spotlessly clean Matthew’s Boundless Playground.
It is very exciting to see Give Kids the World getting the “Extreme Makeover” treatment! And I’m looking forward to pitching in a few hours this week on my volunteer shift, adding my own very small part of supporting the Village during this time. After all, as Gary Rall says, “It’s for the kids”.
If you would like to donate your time or money to Give Kids the World, visit their website!