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Disney Summer Program - Fundraiser 2003 - Updates - Volunteer Opportunities - Memorial Playground
    By Bridget Heaney

At 6 a.m. on the morning of August 8, nine fourth grade girls from PS/MS 306 will leave their parents and homes to fly to a magical kingdom, far, far away on the wings of an angel who lost his life in the tragedy of September 11.

Ira Zaslow was that angel. The Ira Zaslow Foundation, started by Ira’s son in October 2001, is the wings. The magical kingdom is Disney World. Early in 2003, Bryan Zaslow, 27, approached Principal Fred Dolan with the idea of funding a summer day camp at the school located in the Bronx where Bryan’s father grew up. “Bryan is a big thinker,” said Dolan. “We wanted to broaden the vision and to get students out of their immediate community.”

So Zaslow reached further. “I wondered what would blow a kid’s mind – a kid who’s never left their neighborhood.” Within days, he had made contact with Youth Education Services at Disney World and returned to present Dolan with the dream trip. Dolan realized the incredible opportunity that Bryan presented. “It blew me out of the water.” PS/MS 306 of District 10 is host to over 1500

students K-8. The school receives funding under Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Over 90 percent of students are eligible for free lunch. The principal and his staff then chose the students. They selected nine girls who they thought were independent thinkers and could handle being away from their families. The criterion was not necessarily based on academics, but more on their level of maturity and willingness to participate. “We wanted kids who were open to new experiences, had a sense of community, and who were respectful and cooperative.” The requirements may be different next time, but Dolan thought this would be the simplest way to get the program off the ground. “It all happened so quickly,” he said.

When Disney approved the program to which Zaslow applied, Dolan told the parents. “They were speechless,” he said. “They thought we were lying.”
Two weeks later, Zaslow told the girls. “We spent 20 minutes teasing them a little. We had fun with it. We told them they were going to the Bronx Zoo.” When the girls realized they were going to Disney World they were silent until one of them asked if she could hug Pluto.

Zaslow lives in Manhattan with his wife, Lori, 28. He is an associate general counsel for GlobeOp Financial Services in Harrisson, New York. His mission with the Ira Zaslow Foundation is to provide children with an encouraging and safe environment, to acknowledge children who excel, and to promote peace and understanding among all cultures in the community. It may sound like a hefty undertaking but, step by step, Zaslow has been leading the foundation to do just that.

With a grass-roots approach, they have already completed a memorial playground in Valley Stream, New York. In March 2003 Team Ira ran the Los Angeles Marathon and will run the New York City Marathon in November. The City of New York has encouraged the foundation to renovate a city park in the East Bronx in the summer 2004. For more information go to www.irazaslowfoundation.org.

In addition to Zaslow and his wife, the children will be chaperoned by Assistant Principal Cynthia Riley and teachers Renee Cloutier and Kareena Drummond. For three hours every morning before the park opens to the public, the students will receive personal attention from Disney educators, scientists, artists and historians. At the Magic Kingdom the girls will discover the rich history of the United States set in the Liberty Square and Frontierland attractions. At MGM Studios the girls will explore the artistry and history of animation. At Epcot Center they will learn about marine life and conservation in The Living Seas attraction. The students will spend their nights in the movie theme portion of the All Star Hotel. The girls will get to hug Pluto and friends at the Disney Character Breakfast and on their last night will see the world famous fireworks show at Epcot.

The Ira Zaslow Foundation is footing most of the bill. Disney’s Medieval Times Restaurant donated dinner and a joust. Air Tran donated six round trip plane tickets and Varsity Buses in Queens is providing transportation to and from LaGuardia Airport. “We’re also supplying each girl with a Disney credit card to buy a souvenir or two,” Zaslow said.

The students are responsible for writing daily journals and creating a video documentary with the chaperones to present to the school in the fall. They are also required to have fun.

Principal Dolan speaks very highly of Bryan Zaslow. “He brings Ira’s legacy alive through his excitement and dedication.” Ira Zaslow was a technical analyst for Lehman Brothers for over 11 years. He worked on the 38th floor of Tower 1 and was the only employee in the company who did not survive.

PS/MS 306 is looking forward to a long partnership with the foundation. “We know that the bigger the community and business involvement is in a school, the bigger and broader the educational experience is for the kids,” Dolan said. “We’re already talking about redoing the schoolyard and adding more kids to the Disney program next year. Bryan has planted the seed.”