Champion Ambassador Tour Comes to Close in Big Way

It was an early morning our last day in Florida with Children’s Miracle Network, but the kids were roused awake with the promise of a breakfast buffet and it did not disappoint. When Brenna went for seconds, she came back with a plate full of bacon!

Brenna was really excited, and a bit shy, about getting to meet Miss America at breakfast…

And then, Children’s Miracle Network had a surprise for us – they brought in all of the Disney characters! Everyone around us was laughing because Brenna just about jumped out of Evan’s lap with excitement when the characters waltzed in waving. 

After a filling breakfast and time with our favorite characters, it was time to gear up for the Big Finale – the Momentum Closing Ceremony hosted by Nick Cannon!

CMN broadcast the whole ceremony on Facebook Live to raise awareness about the organization and its mission to support children’s hospitals across the country. All of the major corporate sponsors, CMN staff, some hospital staff (like ours!) were there for the big event, and each of the state’s Champions were introduced and walked across a stage.

Brenna was so nervous leading up to her big stage entrance. I was a well of helpful information, trying to prepare her (walk carefully! speak loudly if Mr. Nick asks you a question!) and she was clinging to my leg, saying she wanted me to walk with her. But as we watched the other kids, she grew calmer about it, and when the 10-year-old girl from Indiana behind us began Facebook Live-ing it, Brenna was making goofy faces into the phone and forgot about her nerves.

They called her name, and she strutted up like a BOSS.

 

High fives and cheers! (the three people closest to her are from our local hospital!)

I was trying to videotape but had to turn it off. Not that I was crying or anything. No sir.

That wave. That smile.

I asked Brenna a few weeks after we returned from our trip how she felt when she walked on the stage at the ceremony. She smiled and said “special.”

Yes, my girl. Special indeed.

Nick Cannon was real pumped about Brenna’s purple kicks, which had light-up laces (a gift from our children’s hospital CMN team!), and then she got to give Miss America a hug at the end of the walkway.

After each of the Champion children was introduced and they ran through various promotional videos and activities, it was time to wrap it up, and all of the kids walked back across the stage as a group, giving high fives. They collectively sat on the walkway leading to the bigger stage, but Brenna was sauntering along with another little friend and they apparently didn’t feel like stopping with the group.

They walked all the way up to the presenters, and Marie Osmond pulled Brenna right into her lap! Marie is one of CMN’s co-founders, along with John Schneider,who played Bo Duke in Dukes of Hazzard.

Marie’s giving her loving squeezes and John’s rubbing her back, and Nick says “Let’s keep the applause going for Brenna and all of the Champions!” And it’s such a surreal moment for us, to think about how she’s grown from a critically ill infant to a now five-year-old child who, although she still has many daily health care needs and challenges, is learning how to step outside of her comfort zone and show the world her confidence in who she is as God made her.

And if that’s not enough, to top it off, Brenna got to wear the beautiful Miss America crown too!  She thought that was pretty cool – and pretty heavy!

I’m not sure I could truly recount the emotions and experiences of not only this trip but the entire year of Brenna serving as the CMN Champion Ambassador for Illinois. Not only have we gotten to experience and see so much, but working alongside the other families has transformed our hearts as we’ve gotten to hear their stories and learn their journeys. The experience has instilled in my children a deeper appreciation for what other people are living with, and they have had the opportunity to get to know children with a vast spectrum of conditions, backgrounds and differences.

It was a privilege to be entrusted to represent our state within this wonderful organization this year, and it was a privilege to be a part of this journey with all of these other amazing children and families. Thank you, Children’s Miracle Network, for this incredible opportunity!

Championing Children’s Miracle Network in Orlando

After six incredible days spent at Give Kids The World Village on Brenna’s Make-A-Wish Disney vacation, we woke up on a Tuesday morning ready to transition to the second leg of our trip to Orlando… the Children’s Miracle Network champion ambassador finale tour!

When Brenna was first announced as Champion for CMN representing Illinois this past year, we had no idea what was in store for us over the next 12 months, and it’s been a whirlwind of interviews, speaking, corporate events and all kinds of little stuff in between. But all of that work has been bookended by two amazing trips – last June to Washington D.C. and March in Orlando.

Orlando’s CMN tour also included the Momentum conference, so in addition to all of the state champions and their families, there were hundreds of Children’s Miracle Network staff, corporate sponsors and CMN hospital employees from around the country (including a group of four from our own hospital!). We jumped right in when we got to Coronado Springs resort, speaking to the Board of corporate CMN sponsors to share our story and thank them for all they do.

We were just leaving when a man said “Wait a minute, Marie wanted to meet you!” and out comes Marie Osmond, who is one of the founders of Children’s Miracle Network! Marie was so sweet, and we just loved getting to know her and meet her family over the course of the week.

That first afternoon at Coronado Springs, CMN threw a welcome party for all of the families, with lots of activities for the kids hosted by some of the corporate sponsors. Brenna and Connor got their craft on designing airplane wings at Delta’s table.

This week was all about awareness, which meant lots of photos, videos, and especially Facebook Live. Allie Simpson, Australian model and social influencer, was on hand to help run the show.

Brenna got lots of hugs from Marie Osmond. Our dads were a bit jealous.

The second day, we were given a free morning to head to the Disney parks! We chose Hollywood Studios, where we hadn’t been yet with Make-A-Wish. And we got to hang out with Mike Wazowski.

We only had a few hours at Hollywood Studios, so we caught the Disney Jr. Live show (so cute!) and the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show. We also rode the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, which was awesome – definitely one of our favorite family-friendly rides at Disney.

Later that afternoon, CMN announced all of the Champions with a brief bio in front of the crowds of hospital staff and sponsors, and then we had a pin exchange with all of the corporate sponsors. At Disney, it’s a big trend to collect and trade pins, so our hospital designed – with Brenna’s guidance – a pin of purple sneakers. The icing on the cake? They actually turn on and blink flashing lights! Definitely one of the coolest pins there, thanks to the amazing folks at St. John’s who put in a lot of effort creating a pin that was exactly what Brenna wanted!

As if that was not a long enough day, we then headed to downtown Disney Springs for a late dinner at Bongos with our group of CMN hospital staff. The kids did great with our late night, and even though it was a little hard to get up the next morning, the excitement soon won out over the fatigue because we were headed to Epcot for the day!

Children’s Miracle Network sent all of the champion families on a scavenger hunt through Epcot’s FutureLand, and then we also got to explore, ride rides and meet characters…like Daisy! 

We sauntered around Epcot for the afternoon, indulging in some of the food and drink and sights. We rode Soarin’ (one of the BEST rides in all of Disney!), and I took Brenna on Nemo and Friends Underwater Adventure, which she really enjoyed. Then we made a stop in Morocco to see Jasmine. Brenna hasn’t been too interested in the whole princess thing (Ariel has been the only one that has caught her eye), but she fell in love with Jasmine that day and hasn’t stopped talking about her. (see video here!) They discussed how fast they like to go on carpet rides and how Abu the monkey can be very tricky…

We were so excited to have our local CMN staff with us for some of the day at Epcot! (minus one more, who had to leave early unfortunately.) If you look really closely at our Mickey/Minnie ears, you can see the Children’s Miracle Network logo on the right ear…and Brenna’s ears have the Champion designation on the left ear! Between the light-up sneaker pins, the CMN Disney ears, dinner out and much more, our hospital staff really put in a lot of effort to make our trip memorable. We couldn’t be more grateful for their support!

Disney time moves so fast. After a few days at the parks and various Children’s Miracle Network promotions and parties, our last day with CMN was approaching really quickly. But it definitely became a day we will never forget! Our big Children’s Miracle Network finale ceremony day coming next…