Bert’s Big Adventure: Providing a Magical Trip and Life-long Support

As Rebecca Geringer was recovering from Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection and watching her daughter, Ashlynn, battle leukemia, she decided to do something that would allow her family to have the trip of a lifetime. Geringer applied for Bert’s Big Adventure.

The Geringer family is not alone in having a child with a chronic or terminal illness. Like the Geringers, many families have received support from Bert’s Big Adventure, which was founded in 2002 and is a non-profit foundation that provides an all-expenses-paid, five-day trip to Walt Disney World for children with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families.

Ashlynn was diagnosed with leukemia when she was three years old. Geringer, remembers the exact date – Aug. 29, 2013.  Ashlynn was diagnosed as high risk and started treatment immediately.

img_5219

Geringer remembers how Ashlynn knew she was sick, but did not really know what was going on. She remembers the day she took Ashlynn to get her head shaved three days after she turned four.

Geringer says, “she called herself baldielocks instead of goldielocks. Ashlynn didn’t allow her baldness to affect her at all. She embraced the bald look and did it so well I must say. Her hair is now almost to her shoulders and it’s just as blonde and beautiful as it was prior to the cancer.”

Ashlynn’s fight with cancer is not the only health issue that this family has faced. After giving birth to her youngest daughter Gracelynn, in 2015, Geringer suffered from four massive heart attacks all due to the pregnancy. It was a condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection.  

Geringer says, “I died on the way to the emergency room and once again in the emergency room.  I was life-flighted from our local hospital to Emory in Atlanta. They ended up getting eight pounds of fluid of my chest. I was stable once I got to Emory and by Sunday I suffered another heart attack. The following day I was sent to the cath lab and that’s where we learned my left ventricle was torn as well and emergency open heart surgery was my only chance at survival. I underwent the surgery with all odds against me. I came out of surgery and did amazing. I was home within a week of my surgery. I had to learn to walk again on my left leg where they took two veins out of for the double by-pass. I am now a fifteen-month survivor where many don’t survive this type of condition.”

Bert’s Big Adventure took their first trip in 2003 with seven families from the Atlanta area. Today, it is an annual trip for 12 to 15 families all over the United States. These families do not only get a trip of a lifetime, they also get a lifetime of support through Bert’s Big Adventure. The foundation gives these families a community, life-long support, and love.

img_5280

Stacey Weiss, founder and chairman of Bert’s Big Adventure, relates, on a smaller scale, with what families like the Geringers go through. Her oldest son, Hayden, was born prematurely not long before Bert’s Big Adventure took their first trip.

“We were in NICU for a month and that really was, even though that was a really difficult thing we went through, I think that gave us a blessing because it gave us a really good perspective on what these families go through and what these parents experience on a much smaller scale,” says Weiss.

When Geringer first found out about Bert’s Big Adventure, Ashlynn was too young, so she made a mental note to apply when Ashlynn turned five. Geringer was lying in bed after suffering the heart attacks and undergoing surgery when she saw that the deadline for Bert’s Big Adventure was approaching. Geringer applied right there.

img_5218

Geringer received a call and when she learned that her family had been chosen, she describes feeling like a child on Christmas morning. The trip to Disney World with Bert’s Big Adventure was one that she will never forget.

“I have never seen my girls faces light up the way they did on this trip. We met so many new friends that are now our family. The rides, the food, the amazing gifts from Stacey, all the staff and volunteers were just awesome. They all made us feel so loved, so important. We literally felt like super stars. We were showered with so much love and gifts I felt like we had won something big. Honestly, we did win something big. We won a huge family, new friends and so much love and compassion from everyone. Our trip was literally a trip of a lifetime,” Geringer says.

img_5216

Even though their trip to Disney World is over, their relationship with Bert’s Big Adventure isn’t. The Geringer family, along with the other Bert’s Big Adventure families, stay connected through reunions, which are held every spring, summer, fall, and winter. Geringer says that it is now her turn to give back.

“So many people far and wide came to help when Ashlynn was so sick and now it’s my turn to give back, even if it’s only to spread awareness of Bert’s Big Adventure and what they do. It truly melts my heart that such an amazing organization and all its entirety go to such measures to help these beautiful children,” Geringer says. They bring a smile to a child’s face and brighten a child’s life that may not ever get the chance to do this. It’s such a rewarding thing to be a part of.”

Advertisements

First-Time Voters at Georgia State University

Many Georgia State University students are eligible to vote in a presidential election for the first time this year and have the opportunity to make their way to the polls on Nov. 8. However, some students may not exercise their long-awaited right.

Georgia State is a university known for its diverse student body. Students at Georgia State come from all over the country and the world and the interests of the student body are wide-ranging. The four candidates – Republican Donald Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton, Libertarian Gary Johnson,  Jill Stein for the Green Party – are working to get American voters to side with their views and vote for them, whether they have been voting for the past forty years or will be voting for the first time this year. Some students who are eligible to vote for the first time do not know if they will.

 

img_4917

First-year Georgia State student Sedona Boncore, 18, is registered to vote, but is unsure if she will vote

“I feel like the past few elections have been picking the lesser of two evils. Nobody really seems to truly be passionate about any candidate this year. I don’t even know if I’ll vote,” says Boncore. 

Other students are not going to vote because they feel like the presidential election is not as important as people make it out it out to be.

img_4870

Giovanna Vicioso, a 20-year-old Georgia State student, is not voting because she feels the presidency is irrelevant.

“It really isn’t the presidential election that impacts us as much as city, county, and even state elections. I really think that those are much more important, but nobody ever pays attention to it. This is the first time that I can vote in the presidential election, but I won’t be voting,” says Vicioso.

Some Georgia State students who have looked forward to being able to vote are not as excited as they thought they would be.

 

fullsizerender

Carissa Love is a 21-year-old Georgia State student who will be voting for Clinton. Even though Love does not full trust her, but fears Trump.

“This is the first time that I am eligible to vote in a presidential election and I was always so excited, but now that the time is here, I’m just done. I’m over it, but I know it is important. I don’t want a monster in office and even though I don’t trust her, I’m voting for Hillary,” says Love.

Other students plan to vote but still do not know who will get their vote on Nov. 8.

 

img_4921

Georgia State film student Adrian Cherry is unsure about who will get his vote in the upcoming presidential election because he does not agree with the candidates.

Cherry says, “I don’t side or agree with the candidates. I’m tired of it. The candidates are awful and I don’t like them, but I have to pick one.”
Whether or not first-time voters will exercise their right on Nov. 8, there are a variety of opinions from Georgia State students. 

Atlanta Beltline: Eastside Trail

The Atlanta Beltline is a combination of rail, trail, greenspace, housing, and art. The Beltline is transforming the city and when it is finished, will connect 45 Atlanta neighborhoods and stimulate economic growth and sustainability in Atlanta. On the Beltline you will find a variety of people, both residents and tourists, who utilize the Beltline for a variety of purposes. Some people are getting their daily workout in and others have their cameras and are brushing up their photography skills. Along with interim hiking trails, there are four polished and nearly finished trails that are open public use: Northside Trail, Southwest Connector Spur Trail, West End Trail, and Eastside Trail. Eastside Trail provides access to some of Atlanta’s most popular destinations and neighborhoods including Piedmont Park, Fourth Ward Skate Park, Poncey-Highland, Inman Park, Virginia Highland, and Old Fourth Ward. Atlanta’s own King of Pops even has a location right off the Eastside Trail, providing a fun, tasty treat to those visiting the Beltline.

The Atlanta Beltline is home to Art on the Beltline, which is Atlanta’s largest temporary public art exhibition and truly proves that the Beltline is more than just trails. This exhibition showcases work of visual artists, performers, and musicians along the Beltline. The exhibition brings the Beltline to life and adds beauty to the popular Atlanta attraction. Many of the artists and their works stand for sustainability and human rights. These individuals, sometimes without even knowing it, are inspiring those who come in contact with their artwork.

William Massey III is an Atlanta artist that has had three sculptures featured on the Beltline. Massey was in college studying business and communications, but found himself completely miserable.

“I was searching for what the world was telling me to search for and it was completely empty. I was setting myself up for an empty life, but art gave me a sense of wonder and discovery,” says Massey.

FullSizeRender2

Massey decided to change majors and he chose art. He had little experience, but enjoyed doodling in the sides of his notes so much more than taking the actual notes from his classes. It was at this point that he found his purpose and passion. After graduating, he went to Europe on a one-way plane ticket and after three months, he made his first outdoor installation at a sculpture park in Italy. When Massey moved to Atlanta three years ago, with a picture of his work in Italy, he pitched his idea to the Beltline.

IMG_36424

The Art of Reconciliation is a sculpture that speaks for itself.

Massey says, “All of this junk was thrown out and deemed worthless. The man has a similar story. He was abandoned and on the streets and lost, but he found community. Everything in this piece has been reconciled. What is broken can be redignified.”

In the few moments that I spent with Massey, a number of people would walk by and look at the sculpture, even taking pictures of it and with it.

The Beltline has provided easier access to Atlanta neighborhoods and locations. The art featured on the Beltline brings the attraction to life and keeps it alive.

FullSizeRender

Massey says, “Art gave me this child-like whimsy. I think that is important to quality of life.”

 

 

 

Woodruff Park

Woodruff Park can be found in downtown Atlanta. The park adds green space to the busy, growing city. Planters with daffodils line the edges of the park, adding some color and contrast to the surrounding buildings, which are all in different shades of gray. Several of the buildings bear the Georgia State University name and logo.  There is a chess court, courtyard, and even playground area. The park is a place for everyone: students, business owners, children, tourists. Early in the morning, a few students make their way to class, people work out or walk their dogs, and the homeless start to gather. You can hear the chimes of the streetcar as it makes it rounds; the flow of the fountain;  and the faint banging and grinding sounds from construction all around the park. By afternoon, the scene is different. The courtyard is full of a variety of people including office workers and students, eating and having vibrant conversations. Children play on the ATL-shaped play equipment. Chess-players fill the chess court. Downtown Atlanta is growing, changing, and becoming a place for everyone and the park sends this message.

IMG_3120

“I like that Atlanta is growing. I can see the growth even in the short amount of time I’ve been here. I’ve only been here three months. I’m from New York, but I look forward to seeing its growth and in a year, this place won’t be recognizable. I heard that this hasn’t always been the best area, but Woodruff Park is beautiful.”

— Vera, Atlanta Resident

 

FullSizeRender

“The city has changed so much, for both better and worse. When Atlanta tore down the housing projects, the homeless population grew. I grew up there, but my mom taught me that life isn’t free, so I’ve worked for everything I have. I’ll be honest, I’m quick to judge the homeless people, especially those who ask people for money because I think that they should go get jobs, but at the same time, I understand that some people have disabilities or other circumstances that makes getting a job impossible. Atlanta is making so many changes, so why can’t they do something for the homeless?”

— Elliott, Atlanta Native

FullSizeRender (1)

“Atlanta is never boring. There is always something to do here. There is crime, which sometimes worries me, but I think it is going down. I love it here, though. There is something for everyone and there are so many opportunities right at our fingertips.”

— Tamesha, Georgia State University Student

FullSizeRender (2)

“I really like the environment of Atlanta. It reminds me so much of the town I’m from in Nigeria. It feels like home, you know? Woodruff Park is beautiful though, and this is where it really starts to get nice. Atlanta is great because there is so much to do and there is such a diverse group of people who live here. Everybody fits in here.”

— Mary, Georgia State University Student