The Crystal Ballroom at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown was awash in energy and colour on a recent Sunday afternoon. The occasion was the 24th annual Sunshine Foundation Dreams for Kids luncheon and with 65 police officers, the majority in the iconic red serge of the RCMP, paired up with 65 children, the room didn't lack for energy or inspiration.
The event, which celebrates the children who are fighting life-threatening illnesses, doubled this year as the kick-off for Sunshine's 52nd DreamLift of 85 kids and 85 caregivers, who spent Dec. 11 at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
Daryl Stone, president of the Metro Vancouver chapter of the foundation, has been involved for the past 22 years and he feeds off the infectious energy of the kids.
"I really enjoy children, so to be able to see kids have a day where they can be really happy and not have to think about their illness, that's what makes this so special," said Stone, who's gone on the DreamLift twice, in 1995 and 1999.
Stone said the kids had to wake up early - the plane left at 7 a.m. on Dec. 11 - but the day soon becomes the most memorable in each child's life.
"You'll talk to the kids afterwards and they'll all say it's incredible," said Stone. "They all say it's absolutely incredible."
The party was co-emceed by Burnaby RCMP Staff Sgt. Andy LeClair and Casey Wright, son of Burnaby NOW photographer Larry Wright.
Casey, who was recently master of ceremonies for the 26th annual Crystal Ball for B.C. Children's Hospital in Downtown Vancouver, works the crowd like a professional.
"If it's your first year here," said Casey, "you'll have a ton of fun."
LeClair concurs: "If you come once, you get hooked in and you keep coming back."
Casey, who received an honorary staff sergeant badge last year, got promoted to staff sergeant major, the same rank Buis holds.
Burnaby's top cop, Chief Supt. Dave Critchley, was also on hand to talk to the kids and he said his favourite moments from the party caused him to do something decidedly unusual.
"I like to see people enjoying themselves and that's what happens here," said Critchley. "Last year, afterwards, when I was thinking about the lunch, I did a little jig in my office because I couldn't stop thinking about how much fun everybody was having here."
The flight to Anaheim was paid for mostly out of the funds raised by the B.C. Lower Mainland Sunshine Dreams for Kids golf tournament, held earlier this autumn.
Staff Sgt. Marc Alexander is the organizer of that fundraiser and remembers how far it's come in the 17 years they've been doing the golf tournament.
"The first year, we raised a total of $75," he said. "This year, it was $160,253, our biggest ever and we're so extremely proud of that."
Dr. Rajiv Reebye serves on Sunshine's national board of directors and he's part of the 17-member doctoral team aboard the DreamLift.
"We take kids with spinal cord injuries and kids who are vented paraplegics and child amputees," said Reebye. "I believe we're the only organization that takes kids with every type of disability."
Since 1987, Sunshine has made dreams come true for 7,000 kids across Canada.