Local foster care children set to visit happiest place on earth

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At the beginning of November, seven foster care children will be heading overseas to experience the magic of Disneyland.

Arranged by foster carer Jules Campbell and paid for by the community, the Disney adventure will provide children who have had a rough start in life with an experience they will remember their entire lives. It is the second trip to Disneyland that Jules has arranged for local foster care children.

“Since we have younger children this time, four are under 10, we are spending the full five days at Disneyland,” she said.

The children, accompanied by Challenge Foster Care staff and carers, will stay in a hotel across the road from the park for the complete Disney experience. According to Jules, the basics of the holiday have already been paid for by the wonderful support of the community’s fundraising efforts, including international airfares, accommodation, and Disney Passes.

“Now the fundraising is focused on raising enough money to fly the children directly from Armidale to Sydney to catch their flight to the USA, rather than train,” Jules said.

"We’d also like to give them more experiences within Disneyland, for instance we’d love to take them to a Character Breakfast.”

Learning from Experience

It’s not just the foster care children who are heading to Disneyland in November who are excited. Those who attended in 2015 have also been involved with the fundraising and helping the younger children prepare for the journey.

“The children are very excited, especially two brothers whose older sister went on last time. She came back and told them all about it, so they're pretty pumped,” Jules said.

Six foster care children attended the first Disneyland trip, and due to the older ages of the group their tour was more extensive than the younger second group will experience.

“We took them to an ice hockey game, a tour of Los Angeles and we also did Disneyland. It was amazing,” Jules said.

Those who participated the first time round are looking forward to giving the youngsters advice on how to get the most out of their holiday.

“One of the foster care children who came on the last trip was a very quiet boy, you could tell by his face that he was having a great time but he’s not one to come home and rave about it,” Jules said.

“He asked recently if we had started the Disneyland team meetings yet. I explained we were going to start in a few weeks. He said to me, 'I think it's really important for all of us kids who went last time come along, because we really need to let them know how wonderful it is’.”

Emotional Journey

For children who have experienced a rough time, a trip to Disneyland is a luxury that they had never dreamt possible.

“On the last trip, all the children had assumed I was rich and had paid for everyone. When they asked me how I became so rich, I explained that I had organised the trip rather than paid for it,” Jules said.

“They asked 'But where did the money come from?’. I replied, the people of Armidale. Then they asked ‘How did they pay for it?’ I said, in different ways. Finally they said, ‘But why would they do that, they don’t know me?’.

“My response was, because they care about you. They believe in you and believe this can be an amazing start to a new future for you.

“It was a huge event in my mind, for those kids thought it was incredible that people cared about them when they didn’t even know them."

The Disneyland adventure is an emotional journey for both carers and children, and the reward for Jules’s hard work is the joy in the children’s faces throughout the holiday.

“There's a lot of teary moments,” Jules said.

“For instance, as part of the risk assessment, we had to all wear colour coded shirts. So we are all on the plane with the same shirts on and one of the flight attendants said to me early in the flight ‘Are you the mother of all these kids? Gee you're brave’.

"I explained that I wasn’t their mum, and that we were a charity group from Armidale and that the community had raised money for these foster kids to go to Disneyland.

"The flight attendant was blown away, and said going to get them in the cockpit'. I asked if they were still allowed to do that, and she responded that she was sure the Captain would want to meet the children.

"A few hours later she walks past me and she puts her thumbs up, I couldn’t believe it. So when we were landing in LA she came up and she said ‘Wait until everyone's disembarked and I'll take you through’. The children got to see first class, meet the captain and take some photographs.

"A 13-year-old boy turned to me during this experience and said, with tears in his eyes, ‘How do you make these things happen? This is the best day of my life’.

“I replied, we’re not even in Disneyland don’t make me cry yet!”

Fanatical Family

Jules is a loyal Disneyland fan, and November’s trip will mark her 14th trip to the theme park. She began planning her first trip as a newlywed, creating dream holidays for her family, and now her children have grown up and left home she has continued to spread the Disney magic with foster care children.

“When we were married, I told my husband I would only do it on one condition. No matter how many babies we had, we had to go to Disneyland before the oldest was 12,” Jules said.

"He agreed, so we set up a Disneyland account. I saved and saved and saved. Even when we were really struggling for money and my husband said ‘We have to use the Disneyland money’, I refused. Finally we went when my youngest was four and the eldest was eleven.

“Two years before we went, we sat the kids down and we said to them that we were going to be paying for a big holiday but you have to save your spending money for the trip.

"We explained that we would put the loose coins in a jar, that we weren’t going to pay for tuckshop, there would be no asking for donuts when we go shopping. Every time we would normally have bought a milkshake but didn’t, I put extra money in the tin for example.

"My kids went without a lot for those two years and at the end they went on this amazing trip. My friends thought I was a real witch, because for Christmas the year before my children got a suitcase and a passport from Santa. Then they got their Disney Pass for their birthday, that kind of thing. The kids thought they were the best presents in the world because it meant they were going to Disneyland."

But apparently just one visit wasn’t enough for Jules’s children, who said straight after their trip “That was the best time in the world Mum, please can we go again”.

“I said, you must be joking, I saved for ten years for that! You went without for two years just so you could go,” Jules said.

"They just said ‘No, we want to do it again. We don't want any presents, this is our present'. So from then on we went to Disneyland every two years and that was their present: every year they got their Disney Pass for their birthday, they saved all their money, missed out on tuckshop, all because they just love Disneyland."

Not only has it given Jules’s children an amazing experience, it has also taught them the value of saving up for something truly special.

“My children are adults now and they go to Disneyland by themselves!” she said

Disney’s Magic

Jules believes that the joy of Disney is intergenerational: no matter your age you cannot be unhappy at the happiest place on earth.

“I can see the magic of Disney and the impact it has on children and adults,” she said.

“At the Bunnings sausage sizzle, a lady in her late 80s bought as sausage and said to me, ‘It is so wonderful that you are doing this for these children. I'll never forget my trip to Disneyland’. So I asked her, when did you go? She replied ‘1996’.

"One of the children manning the BBQ got out the book of our last trip that we had with us and were showing her the photos. Coming across Splash Mountain she exclaimed ‘Oh Splash Mountain I loved that, so much fun’. It was a really special moment to see an older member of our community sharing her joy of Disneyland with a young child."

Jules has all the inside information on how to do Disney on a budget, having learnt from her first holiday.

"If you want to know how to do it cheaply, I can tell you,” Jules said.

“The first time we went we spent a lot of money but each time you go figure out more ways to save on expenses.

“Simple things like staying in a hotel across the road rather than at Disneyland, booking the accommodation yourself rather than through a travel agent, making sure your breakfast is included and only paying for one large meal each day. Little things like that can save you a lot of money. Last trip with the foster care children Coles gave us snacks for the kids which helped a lot.

"There's lots of ways you can save money so it doesn't cost you, you know, millions.”

No matter your age or budget, Disneyland is an unforgettable experience. But for these foster care children, the memories of the theme park, overseas trip, and community support, can provide inspiration for many years ahead.

Community Support

The support from the community for the adventure has been inspiring. Jules’s cafe Prue & Olive has a collection jar on the counter. Over the past 14 months, her customers have donated over $9000 to the Disneyland Dream.

“We are so grateful for the people who have given us money. That's just from everyday people putting coins in,” Jules said.

“Someone today put 50 dollars in, I've got no idea who it was. Most people just put in 10 or 20 cents, but it all adds up – to $9000 apparently!”

Last month, the group held a sausage sizzle at Bunnings Armidale, raising an amazing $930 towards the trip, and Stroud Homes will also be holding a fundraising BBQ in Tamworth.

“If the public would like to help, they are welcome to provide a financial donation or donate items of clothing for the children to wear,” Jules said.

“We are a registered charity, so all donations receive a receipt for taxation purposes.”

Challenge Foster Care will be hosting a trivia night to raise more money for the cause. The Disneyland Dream Trivia Night will be held from 6pm on Saturday, July 22, at the Armidale Jockey Club. Ticket price is $100 per table of ten people. Nibbles will be provided and drinks will be available for purchase.

The night will be filled with raffles, games, prizes, fun and, of course, trivia. Donations throughout the evening will also be welcome. To book your table please contact Challenge Foster Care on (02) 6159 4000 or visit the office at 83 Rusden St, Armidale.

Given the support the grand adventure has received so far, it is clear that the community cares about making the foster children’s trip to Disneyland a memorable one.

“Our Local Member Adam Marshall deserves a medal for how hard he has fought for us to do this for these kids, he has been very supportive,” Jules said.

“There are some wonderful people out there who really want to get behind and support these kids. I am so grateful for that, I think it’s beautiful.”

Jules’s enthusiasm for ensuring foster children experience the holiday of a lifetime is inspiring. So much so, that when a foster care caseworker from Orange recently saw the collection jar at Prue & Olive she decided to organise a similar holiday for the foster care children in her region.

As Jules said, this adventure is the start of a bright new future for these foster care children and with the community’s support we can be sure that it is a trip they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Author: Katrina Warmoll

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About Challenge Community Services

60 years ago we were a small band of parents and friends seeking support services for our children with disabilities. Today, Challenge has grown to be one of the largest community support services in New South Wales. We provide support to over 2 500 people from Albury to Lismore, Sydney, Dubbo, Tamworth and beyond. With over 600 staff, 85 of which have a disability, we strive to comply with and exceed all standards required under State and Federal Acts.

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