Disney makes volunteering even more magical

"B-41!" Chase belted out after plucking the bingo ball from the cage.

The patients at the Pathways to Care respite center in Casselberry scanned their cards for an instant before looking back at my 7-year-old son with wrinkled brows.

"Forty-one?" I asked him. "You sure, buddy?"

He looked at the ball again and began giggling.

"Oops," he said with crooked grin. "B-14!"

The scene was largely unremarkable — a little boy and his big sister calling bingo while a dozen or so adults worked in the kitchen, preparing a spaghetti-and-salad lunch.

And yet unremarkable was just what these patients needed. The residents of this care center, after all, are largely there because they have no other choice. They are recovering from surgery and illness and have nowhere else to go. Some are homeless.

They needed a break from their reality.

So, on this Saturday afternoon, the residents got lunch and entertainment — and some of the volunteers got theme-park tickets.

That's right, theme-park tickets.

This past weekend marked the first chance to take part in Disney's new "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" promotion — in which anyone can earn a free ticket to a Disney park simply for volunteering.

It is an amazing idea.

Families can choose from hundreds of activities in their own community — building a house, visiting a nursing home, stocking a food pantry or sprucing up a playground — and earn a free ticket in the process.

You can volunteer by yourself and get one ticket. Or you can volunteer as an entire family — there are activities for children as young as 6 — and the whole family gets tickets.

You give something of yourself. And in return, you get something for yourself.

If you want to give a bit more, you can donate your free tickets to the Boys & Girls Clubs. That's what my family did.

This program would be a great idea anytime. But it's particularly opportune now when we're neck-deep in a recession. People want to help but are short on money to make cash donations.

There may be cynics who view this as just another marketing ploy by Disney to get folks into its park.

But think about it for a minute. Disney could've come up with any of a million different lures. In fact, in last year's promotion, all you had to do was show up on your birthday to get in free.

This year, Disney is actually getting its guests to do something.

The potential impact is remarkable.

One million people may take part in this program. And if every one of them volunteered just two hours (and some projects are much longer affairs), that would be 2 million man-hours. That's the equivalent of 50,000 workweeks. Or a staff 100 working nearly 10 years.

What's more, there's a good chance that many of the people who volunteer once will want to do it again.

In fact, that's the hope. You do it once for the tickets. You do it again, just 'cause it feels good.

Volunteers also learn more about the nonprofits in their own backyard, where underpaid staffers and volunteers work tirelessly all year long.

At Pathways to Care, that means taking care of patients who are recovering from bone fractures, skin infections — even amputations. Many of those staying in this 40-bed facility don't have enough money or insurance to stay elsewhere. Some don't even have homes.

Disney's promotion just started Jan. 1. And Hands On Orlando — the top-notch group that is coordinating volunteer projects for Disney — said more than 1,500 people signed up as soon as the Web site went live.

So, if you want to join up, check out the details at and

You won't be disappointed.

My children got to see firsthand that many people don't live a life as comfortable as they do. They learned that helping feels good, that it can be fun … and, oh yes, that 41 is found in the N row.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at or 407-420-6141.