He Gave Kids The World

Henri Landwirth

Henri Landwirth died last week. He was 91.

You may or may not know the name. But he was a great man and a great Floridian too.

His obituary did appear on the front page of the Orlando Sentinel, but in many places his passing was obscured by the death the same day of Barbara Bush, also a great person with ties to the Sunshine State.

Mr. Landwirth was a remarkably successful hotelier in Central Florida who built an empire from scratch.

But I got to hear of him—and meet him a time or two—because he founded “Give Kids the World”, a magnificent charity that makes dreams come true for seriously ill children and their families. Over the years, Give Kids the World has served over 160,000 children from all 50 states and 75 countries.

I was introduced to Give Kids by former Delray Beach Vice Mayor Jon Levinson whose family was very involved in the charity.

Every year, Jon and his family would buy a few tables at the Give Kids the World Annual Banquet at the Peabody in Orlando.

And each year, Jon would invite a few friends to come for a fun filled but meaningful weekend. Diane and I and the kids were able to go a few times and we happily supported the organization.

Nearby, Mr. Landwirth and the charity built Give Kids the World Village, a warm and inviting place that served as a respite for families going through indescribable sorrow and stress.

A visit to the village gave everyone instant perspective on what was truly important and how if your loved ones have their health—well let’s just say that whatever is stressing you isn’t so bad after all.

Jon made it a point to take his guests to the village. This way it wasn’t just a fun weekend at the Peabody. (The Duck March is a hoot though).

Many of the visitors were deeply affected. When our friends Bill and Tracy Branning visited, their daughter Kelly was inspired to start an organization at Boca High that raised funds for the charity.  We all thought that was very cool and a big hint to the size of her heart. She now teaches in an inner city school in Washington D.C.

Mr. Landwirth was a Holocaust survivor who suffered terribly as a child in the camps. From the age of 13 to 18 he was imprisoned by the Nazis. He was separated from his twin sister, his parents were killed and he was frequently beaten. He came to the United States with $20 to his name, started in the hotel industry as a bellhop and built an empire, starting as a Holiday Inn franchisee. It’s a true only in America story.

His motivation for starting Give Kids was simple: he didn’t want children and their families to suffer.

So the village was built to give kids and their families a taste of a nicer world and allow them to experience a weeklong dream vacation. From humble beginnings, the village grew to 166 accommodations spread out over 84 acres in Kissimmee.

We urge to check it out and get involved. Visit http://www.gktw.org/

This kind of empathy is what’s needed to create a better world. And it’s important that we do.

We need more Henri Landwirth’s.

They not only give us a world with heart, they heal broken hearts too.

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