Village for ill children provides magical experience.
When local architect Benjamin Butera is asked to show a sample of his work, he often holds up a photo of the Castle of Miracles, complete with mushroom that contains a carrousel. It’s an imaginative, fanciful building that was designed to spark a child’s imagination.
“It’s my best work,” he said recently.
It’s one of several buildings he has designed in Give Kids the World Village near Kissimmee, a place where children with life-threatening illnesses have a memorable and cost-free experience, along with their families.
Butera was there at the beginning of the village 30 years ago, when he met with Henri Landwirth, a Holocaust survivor who became successful in the hotel industry after coming to America. In creating the village, Landwirth said he wanted to give something back to humanity, especially the children.
The work continues today, as Butera, whose firm is located at 1364 U.S. 1, Suite 502, Ormond Beach, is starting design on a new multi-family residential building. He is the major architect for the 71-acre village where 170,000 families have visited and Butera said he’s as engaged and enthusiastic as ever.
“It has been the most creative and rewarding work of my career,” he said. “No contracts, no hidden agenda and the opportunity to work with the most caring people on Earth.”
Landwirth told him that he wanted to bring joy to children’s lives, even if only for a short time. Butera, whose office was in Winter Park at the time, set to work, with a goal to make children’s eyes light up.
Other buildings in the village designed by Butera include Amberville, where there are shows and an arcade and children can dress up as characters.
The village provides lodging for critically ill children not available at the Orlando theme parks. But the local entertainment industry, including Disney and Universal, work with the village and Butera to provide animation and interactive experiences.
Butera was one of several business people inspired by Landwirth in the beginning. For example, Perkins Restaurant was the first building, and still provides free meals to the families.
The village is funded by corporate donations and also aided by 4,000 volunteers. There are 200 full-time employees.
“What they do for families really is magical,” Butera said.
It’s something he can look back on and know he made a difference, he said.
Landwirth died last year, and his wife, Pamela, is now president.
In his other business, Butera designs both corporate buildings and custom homes, which he enjoys because each one is “one of a kind,” he said.