Darrell Pitman now has a permanent reminder of his volunteer experiences with Sunshine DreamLift London.
In April, the North Bay man helped to chaperone a group of about 80 children living with severe physical disabilities or life-threatening illnesses, on a one-day whirlwind adventure to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, sponsored by the Sunshine Foundation of Canada.
On Friday, Pitman got a tattoo designed by one of the children, added to his sleeve.
“It’s to commemorate the Sunshine DreamLift program. A young boy designed the tattoo for me. Hopefully, it will help promote the program and get some more money for the kids."
Dead City Studios tattooer Caleb Atkinson replicated the child’s artwork on Pitman’s arm.
“This is actually one of my favourite ones, because all of Darrell’s tattoos reflect activities and journey’s from his life. And a lot of them are volunteer work,” said Atkinson.
“I like that it was done by one of the kids involved. The fun part of it is, it’s not a tattoo artist’s tattoo. It captures the spirit of what they’re doing. It’s of one of the volunteer’s holding the hands of one of the children who is in a wheelchair, and they’re looking at the Disney castle in the clouds. In the top left corner are the words ‘never give up on your dreams.’
Pitman says the children erupt into cheers the moment the plane takes off for Florida.
“We flew out of London with kids from the London hospitals and area They take them there for their dream. A lot of kids would never get the chance to do it, some have never been away from their parents before in their life. The emotion they show is unreal. They’re so ecstatic. All their worries are gone for a day. They’re tough kids. the happiest kids you ever want to see, really.”
Parents are understandably nervous letting their child travel such a great distance without them, but it provides them with some needed respite.
“I talked to the mother of one of the little guy’s we were looking after, and they said they actually went to dinner and went to the show. They said they never did that before because they provide 24-hour care.”
The youngsters are anywhere from 10 to 16 years old.
Pitman was selected to chaperone because of his participation in the OARA (Ontario Auto Recyclers Association) Tire Take Back event.
Last year his family-owned business, P & G Auto Parts, was recognized for collecting the most tires among all OARA members.
“They’ve been doing it for a few years. You have a certain time period to collect scrap tires, and all the proceeds from that goes to support the Sunshine Foundation which organizes the DreamLift,” said Pitman.
“This year we collected around 2,000 tires which will amount to $2,000 which will be donated to the Sunshine Foundation.”
Pitman’s first trip with the group was in 2013. This year is his second outing.
“It’s a life-changing experience. You realize what people are going through and the kids are going through, and how happy they are to go on this trip. One little guy I was with uses a wheelchair and can’t talk, but he’s the happiest kid you’d ever want to see in your life. You can see by the expression on his face. Lots of big smiles. All the kids are just so great.”