Magical day as youngsters visit Santa's Lapland home
It was a magical day to remember.
More than 100 boys and girls from across Northern Ireland have just returned from a fun-filled trip to Lapland to visit Father Christmas at his home.
The Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust flew the terminally ill, life-limited and other deserving children to meet Santa and enjoy a day of snow, presents and games.
A team of volunteers from the charity, headed up by Larne man Jack Rodgers MBE, was accompanied by doctors and nurses for the special day trip, now in its seventh year.
Under the watchful eye of Santa's cheery elves, thrill-seeking children and their parents took part in reindeer and husky rides, sledging and mini-skidoo rides, with good-natured snowball fights thrown into the mix.
Last night, Northern Ireland's very own Santa Claus, Mr Rodgers, told the Belfast Telegraph he knows all the hard work and fundraising throughout the year is worth it when he sees the smiles on the faces of the children nominated to make the special journey.
"We had another fantastic trip," Mr Rodgers said.
"I want to thank all our sponsors, supporters, the volunteers, the hospitals, the airline and everyone else who has helped make these children's dreams come true.
"The kids had a wonderful time with Santa and enjoyed every moment of their day.
"The reality is that many of those on the trip won't be here next Christmas so we wanted to give them a special treat and memories for the families to cherish.
"I am always so impressed by the little ones' capacity to enjoy themselves when faced with such difficult health battles." Jack says the support the charity has received from people across Northern Ireland during 2014 has been overwhelming.
"The entire team is thrilled this year's trip was a huge success and we would like to take this opportunity to thank the public for all their support this year," he said.
"We hope to see you at events we have planned for throughout 2015. Planning for next year's trip has already started."
For more about Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust please visit: http://www.niclt.org/
The Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust is a charity which each year takes kids who are terminally ill, life-limited or deserving for other reasons on an enchanting festive adventure they will never forget. This year more than 100 boys and girls made a specal trip to Lapland to met Father Christmas.
'They were all totally gobsmacked'
Paul Irvine from south Belfast was on this year's trip with his wife Geraldine and their three children Patrick (11), Annie (8) and Maggie (5). Paul said:
The kids couldn't get over the whole day. We had written to Santa and told the kids they had been invited over to meet him.
They were totally gobsmacked. We had a fantastic time. It was a such a magical trip from start to finish.
The children had a great time in the snow and on the reindeer and husky rides.
Patrick and Maggie both have dystonia.
Patrick is severely disabled and needs 24 hour care. He doesn't have speech but he is as bright as a button.
My daughter Maggie has a less severe form of dystonia. She isn't in a wheelchair but she doesn't have speech either.
Annie has been a carer for them so it was great treat for her. She maybe deserved this trip most of all.
The health trust, the airline and the charity are superb.
The doctors and nurses from the Royal Children's Hospital looked after us so well all day.
Nurse Lynsey Mitchell from Allen Ward in the Children's Hospital who was just superb. As a family, we can't thank and say enough about her.
We also raise money for local charities and this year coming we will definitely be working hard to raise money for the NI Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust.
'The kids are still talking about it'
Julie Greenaway from Portadown was on this year's trip with her children Lewis (7), Tilly (5) and 4-year-old Frazer. Julie said: "It was a magical, once in a lifetime thing." She says:
Lewis has a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
He receives his surgical care in Birmingham and he is medically managed in Belfast.
When we found out last month Lewis had been nominated by nursing staff at Craigavon Area Hospital the kids were so excited.
Their favourite part was seeing the huskies and they loved the reindeer and the wee elves' workshops.
For me the most humbling thing was being away with parents who have kids with life-limiting conditions.
We met and mixed with so many lovely people.
The kids are still talking about it. They had letters with them on the day. The boys have asked Santa for John Deeres and Tilly was looking for a Baby Born doll. The Lapland Trust does invaluable work for children. A lot of the kids have accomplished and been through an awful lot, so what they are doing is fantastic. I hope to fundraise for them in the future.
'I was so touched by experience'
Yvonne Heggarty from Coleraine is a special needs teaching assistant at the North Coast Integrated College. She was on the trip as a volunteer worker. Yvonne said:
It was a very emotional day. We had an amazing time. It was such a different world for the children.
They were so excited from we arrived at the airport in Belfast.
The Lapland Trust does great work.
My main aim for 2015 is to be devoted to the charity.
I heard a lot of parents remarking that it was like a fairytale their children would never have experienced without the charity.
The kids were in complete awe, smiling and laughing like there was no tomorrow.
It was priceless.
I am so grateful to have been a part of it. I was so touched by the whole experience.
'To see smiles on faces was unreal'
John McKenna from Omagh was on this year's trip with his wife Angela and their daughters Sarah (7) and four-year-old Emma. John said:
We were nominated by Patricia Meehan, a nurse from the Western Trust, after out baby daughter Lucy died.
Lucy was diagnosed with Edwards Syndrome two weeks after she was born on April 4 and she passed away on July 14. The children were left to the side a wee bit so the Lapland trip gave them a great lift.
It was their first time on a plane.
They loved the whole day from start to finish.
They had so much fun with the reindeer and meeting Santa. They nearly had me believing!
The charity is unbelievable.
To see the smiles on the faces of the kids was unreal.
We will never forget the experience.