Wish-granting nonprofit resort to close indefinitely, lay off most of its staff

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some wish types have been postponed but Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida are working to ensure that wishes continue even during the ongoing pandemic. In fact, since March, Make-A-Wish Central and Northern Florida have granted 18 wishes to children with critical illnesses in Central and Northern Florida. They will continue to find new ways to grant wishes and reach more families.

It's a terrible coronavirus casualty. The Give Kids the World Village is shutting down indefinitely. The group is instrumental in helping grant the wishes of sick children.

Give Kids the World Village is a magical place for sick children and their families, but it will be a while before it greets families again.

"My husband had sent me a text to tell me, 'Hey, Give Kids the World is closing indefinitely. I was like, 'What?" said Tricia Rispoli, who lives in Gainesville.

The nonprofit resort announced it's staying closed and laying off 171 workers due to COVID-19. That's 86% of its staff that will be gone after June 27.

Little Maddie Rispoli stayed at the resort with her family in 2017 after she was diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis. Her wish was to meet Moana and be a princess for a day."It was such a special time for our family to be together and to connect and to have fun," said Rispoli.

But COVID-19 has made it hard for wish foundations to grant travel and theme park wishes."Our children are medically fragile. They have a critical illness and they’re considered vulnerable," said Give Kids the World President and CEO Pamela Landwirth.

Each one of the stars inside the castle on-site represents a child or family who’s been there over the years and now between March and August, 4,000 families will be impacted and won’t be able to stay there.

"We’ll never turn down a child so if there are rush wishes that happen during this period, we will find a way to help that happen," said Landwirth.

Ultimately, Landwirth says the health and well-being of the kids are most important.

Rispoli and her family were set to come back this winter for alumni weekend. She's been in remission for 18 months, but when they think of those whose first trip will be delayed, they are heartbroken.

"Because our time at the Village was rejuvenating," said Rispoli.