Posted in Out and About in Orlando

Make M Smile, the Happiest Event in Orlando (Part 1)

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A member of the Smile Crew inflates a blimp with the Nathaniel’s Hope logo in Lake Eola Park

It’s wee into the early morning hours in Lake Eola Park, a well known landmark to many who dwell in Central Florida, and it’s alive with activity and cheer.

For its fourteenth year, Nathaniel’s Hope, a special needs ministry, sets up their annual event Make M Smile, a once a year gathering for special needs kids (or VIPs) and their families, full of fun events and activities tailored to their needs. Everything, from the amusements, food, and other festivities are free to the VIP and their family.

The event was started as a celebration of life for Nathaniel Kuck, a young boy with special needs who “relocated to heaven” in 2003 as a way to celebrate the lives of VIPs and their families.

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A few Smile Crew members set up a large Nathaniel photo op lakeside.

It takes many hours and many volunteers to make this event happen, and the results are totally worth it.

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VIP Connor kisses a smiley face balloon while waiting for his turn in the bounce house.

I met up with many people who have told me stories of the event and how it has changed their lives. Connor’s mother had nothing but amazing things to say as she placed Connor into a special bounce house labeled “Medically Fragile” for kids with more severe needs.

“It’s amazing that I’m able to take Connor on a bounce house tailored just for kids like him.” She said. “The attention to detail here is incredible.”

Another such visitor to the same bounce house was Stephen, who seemed skeptical at first upon being lifted from his wheelchair into the house, but soon found his bearings and bounced away, playfully knocking over his mother Susie and practicing his standing skills.

“The atmosphere is great, so many kids in wheelchairs, makes me feel like we are not alone.” Susie exclaimed as she left the house.

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VIP Stephen shows off his standing skills with a little help from his mother Susie

The event had plenty to offer, each part of the park labeled in Zones with a variety of themes, much like the many local attractions in the area. These themed zones had live animals, vehicles to explore, favorite cartoon characters to meet, arts and crafts, and many more. There was indeed something for everyone. No sad faces here.

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VIP Alexsus and mother Angela pose with Curious George.

The sights and sounds around the lake were full of joy, evident throughout, for today was a day these amazing kids can be treated like royalty and have the time of their lives.

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VIP Cole, mother Nicole, and their family make their way down the trail with a massive collection of balloons.

This experience getting to meet and talk to so many families was one that goes down in the books as a great day never to be forgotten. It was indeed a day of celebration, a day of hope, and a day of unity. Just like Nathaniel would of wanted. Just like any VIP kid deserves.

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Join me later on as I share two great stories in depth about my first Make M Smile experience.

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