CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- A trip to Walt Disney World truly does create memories for a lifetime.
Just ask Sarah Pollow. She was in kindergarten when her family was invited to experience the magic for free with about a dozen other Cedar Valley families.
The gift arrived through Magical Mix Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides vacations for local children who are chronically and terminally ill.
Pollow suffers from spastic cerebral palsy that causes a tightness in her leg muscles and results in difficulty walking.
"We never get to go on vacation, so it was way, way fun," said Pollow, now 14, of Waterloo. "And your disability didn't matter because everybody had one."
On Friday, she joined former trip recipients and hundreds of community members at the Park Place Event Centre to help send another dozen or so kids and their families to Orlando, Fla., in September. The 14th annual event, presented by Re/Max Home Group, included live and silent auctions and raised more than $60,000. Last year generated upward of $75,000.
Auction co-director and Realtor Carrie Grimm said donations are consistently generous. This year also featured local band Blue Suede Cruze, sponsored by The VGM Group in Waterloo.
"If you've ever seen pictures, if your family's ever been touched by a child with special needs, I think it's so easy for people," she said.
Images flashed across large screens on both sides of the stage showing kids posing with Mickey Mouse, touching Pluto's nose and laughing with Goofy.
"Every child should have happiness in their life, and when they have hardship, it's really not hard for people to wrap their minds around trying to make it better in some way," Grimm said.
When guests see past recipients wandering around, "it all makes even more sense," she added.
Josh Buchholz, his parents, Mike and Paula, and brother, Peyton, 18, were among those who went in 2009. His mom pointed to their picture with Mickey printed in the auction program.
Josh, 16, of Parkersburg, suffers from Alagille syndrome, which affects multiple organs, particularly the liver.
The weeklong vacation was stress-free, according to his parents. Josh wore a brace because of a broken femur, but had a wheelchair for walking long distances.
Also, participants travel with a doctor and nurse, they noted.
Last year, 11 children and an additional 33 family members were chosen to visit the four theme parks.
Pollow, an eighth-grader at Central Middle School, still remembers eating breakfast with Disney characters, as well as a pizza party. She was accompanied by her parents, Greg and Cindee, and sister, Laura. At the time, she couldn't wait to meet Minnie Mouse.
"My best friend from preschool went on this just a few years ago, and a girl at my school went before me," she said. "We still talk about it --- what we did and how much we loved it."