How One Cast Member Creates Oceans of Hope in Florida
As anyone who has ever visited a Disney Park knows, the magic doesn’t come from the attractions or the restaurants, it comes from the Cast Members who do their best to make every guest’s day a memorable one.
Here at MickeyBlog, we love telling Cast Member stories and highlighting the unique ways that they make the magic happen.
One Cast Member who certainly fits that mold is Danny Paltjon, a Walt Disney World employee and founder of the Oceans of Hope Foundation.
Pushing Through the Limits One Door at a Time
In 2003, Danny sustained a spinal cord injury and thought his “world was over not being able to move or anything”. He soon realized, however, that his story was just beginning.
“The day I accepted myself was the day a light switch went on,” Danny said. “I was able to adapt to my injury. I continued pushing through limits one door at a time, and I have been able to achieve anything I wanted to do.”
While Danny already helped guests have a magical start to their Walt Disney World trip as a Vacation Greeter in the Magic Kingdom, he wanted to do more to empower people with disabilities.
Oceans of Hope Foundation
So, he founded Oceans of Hope Foundation- a nonprofit organization in Florida that helps individuals with limited or no mobility experience water activities (like surfing or kayaking) in a safe and inclusive environment.
According to Danny, the secret to his success is to accept, adapt and achieve.
In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Danny helped host an extra special event for Cast Members at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon.
Nearly 30 Disney VoluntEARS and Oceans of Hope volunteers teamed up to offer an exclusive adaptive surfing lesson for Cast Members, their families, and friends.
One Cast Member who took advantage of the surfing lessons was Rebecca.
“Before my turn, Danny could tell that I was nervous,” she recalled.
“We talked about my story and some of the emotions that were coming up for me – it was the first time I was publicly taking pride in my identity as someone who is disabled. It was so clear to me that Danny saw me as a whole person, and he was able to honor that in our conversation.”
After her talk with Danny, Rebecca was ready to take on the waves! What made the event even more special, was that her husband and daughter were there to support her.
“I’ve always had a very complex relationship with my disability,” Rebecca said. “When I saw this event posted, I just knew that this would be a chance to build a healthier relationship with my body and gain more trust in myself. Tonight showed me that Disney knows that regardless of abilities, all cast members are beautiful, valid, helpful and incredible”.
What It’s All About
It is stories like Rebeccas that drive Danny to continue his work.
“Every single event that we put on at Oceans of Hope, I just sit back and see all the smiles,” Danny said. “That’s what keeps me moving forward because those memories are priceless. It means the world to me.”
Danny is just the kind of Cast Member that deserves to be celebrated. To learn more about his foundation visit oceansofhopefoundation.org/
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