On the Fly™ - Editorial Commentary by Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams

July 26, 2004:  How important is it for children to travel?  Just ask Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams, Woodfin Suites Hotels, Thrifty Car Rental, and Choice Hotels!
--by Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams

Let's start with the end of the story: Eleven homeless children, rescued from the streets of Tucson by the Giving Tree Outreach Program, and their chaperones, departed on July 30, 2004, on an 11 day/10 night trip to do something that most families take in stride. But these children have never been off the streets of Tucson, have never stood on a beach and have never seen an ocean. Many of them have spent far too many days living in the back seat of a car or worse. But something as miraculous as the executive director of the Giving Tree winning a stay for herself in San Francisco because she was “Lucky Caller Number 5” to the nationally syndicated radio show, “Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams!” on the Business Talk Radio Network, brought the special needs of the children to my attention.

And here is what happened: On April 25, 2004, when Libby won her prize, I learned that Libby had promised the children in the care of the Giving Tree that they were going to California to see the ocean and to enjoy the attractions there. But Libby confided to me that she had no concrete plans, no funds other than $1000 they had raised toward this purpose and no idea how they would make the trip a reality other than their commitment and a lot of faith!

I believe that early travel experiences enhance the educational process of a child's life in more than academic ways. Seeing the world as a beautiful and wonderful place where caring people leave enhancements for future generations is a vital lesson for every child to learn and carry into adulthood. Nothing taught in a classroom can make the impact of experiences resulting from travel. Knowing the importance of making Libby's commitment a reality, I promised her that this unique group would not be disappointed. I set the wheels in motion with my “Failure is not an option” attitude and started the wheels literally in motion to move 11 children and 5 adults from Tucson to California and back. . . with a little help from my friends!

And here's what happened:
Woodfin Suites Hotels, a wonderful chain of all-suites hotels which offer all the comforts of home, inclusive of extensive hot and cold buffet breakfasts daily and light meals many evenings, provided 4 suites for 4 nights in Cypress, California, only minutes away from major attractions including Disneyland AND 4 suites for 4 nights at the Woodfin Suites Hotel in San Diego, complimentary.

Choice Hotels provided 4 rooms for one night in Los Angeles to make it easy for the group to visit other parts of the area without extensive driving time.

The Hampton Inn of Blythe, CA, provided a super-preferential rate for the group while they were in transit from Tucson to Cypress, CA.

Penny Burich, Director of National Sales for Woodfin Suites, volunteered to assist with admissions for the group and happily delivered complimentary admissions for them to visit the San Diego Zoo and Animal Park.

Two weeks before the group left on their trip, their 15 passenger van was brought in for inspection and servicing to get it ready to hit the road. Libby Wright, was informed that the van was not going to pass the emissions test and road service needs in time for the trip. With all the hotels in place for the group, the challenge now was to get them there! I made contact with key executives of car rental companies and was delighted by a positive reply from Thrifty Car Rental within 24 hours of my conversation with Bob Thunell at Thrifty's headquarters. Thrifty provided 2 seven passenger vans complimentary which, in addition to the one car that a chaperone was driving, covered their transportation needs. In essence, transportation for the group was now just a question of covering the cost of gasoline.

Renee Werbin, publisher of the wonderful travel magazine, “travelgirl,” helped to open the door to get the attention of the Morris Family Foundation which generously made a donation to the Giving Tree to be used to defray the costs along the way. Additionally, with the cooperation of Ti-Kaye Village Resort in St. Lucia, I was able to provide the Giving Tree with a one week stay for 2 at the wonderful resort, which I donated in memory of Desmond Skeete, former Chairman of St. Lucia Tourism. The organization auctioned the stay on Ebay and raised another $500 toward their trip expenses.

Manufacturer's Direct of Maynard, Massachusetts, a supplier of advertising specialties, provided mini-transistor radios, tee-shirts, and flashlights for each of the children. Hertz Rent a Car sent Hertz Teddy Bears dressed for the beach, suntan lotion, lip balm and water bottles. Club Med sent tee-shirts that the Giving Tree printed their name on so everyone left in matching outfits.

And when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping! We made it Christmas in July at my office where Santa's mid-year helpers were busy preparing and boxing personalized journals for the kids, glue sticks and markers, new shorts outfits for everyone, swim suits and shorts outfits with matching sox for the little girls as well as activity games and bubbles to keep everybody busy while they made their way to California and back.

Their first morning at Woodfin Suites Hotel in Cypress, CA, Libby called me to share some of the wonderful things that had happened in just two days of travel and ended by telling me that Justin, 10 years old, didn't sleep at all the night before even though the accommodations were both comfortable and outstanding. She put Justin on the phone to tell me why. When I asked him about his sleepless night, he replied, “ I was too excited because we're going to the beach today.” Takes your heart from your chest, no?

Libby got back on the phone and asked, yet again, if I could come out to California and meet them. I told her it would be great but was out of the question. I had to cross my fingers behind my back while I was on the phone because my plans were already confirmed with the teamwork of caring people at Continental Airlines to get me the flights I needed to get to California to surprise the group and turn around and head back home! I am bringing along our remote recording equipment so that listeners to, “Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams!” will have the opportunity to share the joy of seeing California through the eyes of the children rescued by The Giving Tree.

I have to believe that this very special trip, created by the generosity of the golden hearts of key executives of major travel suppliers, will have positive impact on the life-goals of the children in this group whose beginnings one could only describe as ‘a rough start.” It's amazing what can be accomplished with ‘a little help from your friends!”

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