THANKS to a volunteer program, young hospital patients and communities in Shanghai are sharing Disney joy ahead of tourists who will visit the first Disneyland on the Chinese mainland which is scheduled to open next year.
As Shanghai Disney Resort encourages staff to do volunteer work in local communities, Polly Shen, a specialist in the partner relationship office, is among those who have happily answered the call.
Shen has been participating in the resort’s weekly children hospital program visiting young patients at the Hematology and Oncology Center of Shanghai Children’s Medical Center. She brings gifts to the sick children, tells them Disney stories and plays games with them.
“As the mother of a 10-year-old girl, I am deeply touched whenever I see these children laughing as if they had forgotten their illnesses,” Shen said.
The Walt Disney Company launched Disney VoluntEARS in 1983. The program now operates in 42 countries, lending more than 8 million hours to volunteer work, ranging from helping the sick and disabled, participating in environmental clean-up campaigns and building community playgrounds.
In Shanghai, Shanghai Disney Resort’s Cast Members and Imagineers also visit local schools to give lessons on fire and water safety, and they are helping elementary school children plant organic gardens near the resort in Pudong’s Chuansha area.
Emily Wong, Citizenship and Community Relations manager at the resort, said employees are anxious to get involved and there is no dearth of volunteers. In fact, staff here feel very proud to participate in the volunteer programs and sometimes even involve their whole family to make contributions to the local community.
“The volunteer work aims to reward the local communities where our resorts operate, as well as communicate the Disney culture through activities such as ‘Reading Together,’ a storytelling program at Pudong Library,” she said.
Wong has been working in community relations with Disney resorts in Hong Kong and the United States for over 10 years. She took over leadership of volunteer programs for Shanghai Disney Resort in 2012.
“Local Cast Members not only apply to take part in the programs, but they also bring their children and even parents to also serve as volunteers,” Wong said.
The company encourages innovation in extending the Disney hand into communities.
For example, creative designers from Walt Disney Imagineering Shanghai came up with Disney-themed hats and holiday masks to give to children who lose their hair in medical treatments.
The resort also set up an activity room filled with Disney imagery in the medical center in Pudong. Activities for children are held there every Friday.
“Children are always eagerly waiting for us on Fridays,” said Wong. “And they are reluctant to end the afternoon when it’s time to leave.”
She said the program will be expanded to other local hospitals with more Cast volunteers in the near future.
Wong, who personally takes part in volunteer activities, likes storytelling programs the best because, she said, they brings the magic world of Disney to Chinese children. Every weekend, Disney volunteers read stories to children, in both Chinese and English, at the Pudong Library.
The children appreciate stories like “Winnie the Pooh” and “Toy Story” as much as her own two daughters do. In fact, her eldest child dances the “up, down, touch the ground” routine for Chinese children.
But being a good corporate citizen doesn’t only involve children. The volunteer program also aims to brighten the lives of Chinese construction workers at the resort.
Every Chinese New Year and during the Lantern and Mid-Autumn festivals, Shanghai Disney Resort volunteers hold holiday celebrations with the laborers. During the events, “model workers” are recognized for their contributions to work safety and quality, and each worker receives a set of Disney gifts.
Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse sometimes also make an appearance during Spring Festival events, wearing traditional Chinese New Year outfits to deliver holiday greetings.
Sue Qu, a financial analyst with Walt Disney Imagineering Shanghai, is among those who says she likes to interact with the construction workers.
“I have few opportunities to do that since my job is on the financial side,” Qu said.
“I could feel their hands and see the almost childlike smiles on their faces,” Qu said. “I felt they were such lovely people, and I wanted to talk with them more often.”
On weekends, Wong and several volunteers screen Disney movies outdoor at the construction site. “I was quite impressed that many workers who didn’t bring chair were willing to stand for two-and-half hours to watch ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’,” she said.
As more employees join the resort with the grand opening in Spring 2016, Wong said the resort plans to organize more Disney VoluntEARS programs to serve local residents and further share the Disney spirit.