Mattie’s Head Elf Sleigh on Display during
the 25th Annual CHI/United Fantasy Flight
At the age of 4, Mattie J.T. Stepanek went on his first “Fantasy Flight” to the North Pole to spend a morning celebrating the season in Santa’s workshop. The trip is an annual event sponsored by Children’s Hospice International and United Airlines at Dulles International Airport. For 25 years, children with life-threatening conditions and disabilities have been participating in Fantasy Flight, which offers families a morning of fun and memories.
By age 6, Mattie’s wish to “become an elf and serve others with Santa” was coming true — as Santa presented Mattie with an Elf in Training outfit. By age 7, Mattie was promoted to “Head Elf.” As his disability progressed and he began to use a wheelchair, volunteers built Mattie a “sleigh” so that he could continue his mission of serving others, in holiday style.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of of the CHI/United Fantasy Flight, and Mattie’s legacy lives on at the North Pole. As it has been each year since Mattie passed away in 2004, his sleigh is on display, filled with stuffed animals. And, a box of his Heartsongs — inspirational quotes Mattie presented to United Airlines in the mid-1990s — is celebrated by the volunteers.
Mattie loved visiting Santa’s worksop early in December each year. The trip is an amazing adventure. Each child and family member receives an official ticket for a flight to the North Pole. Before boarding the airplane, families get into the holiday spirit as they enjoy music, entertainment, and food in one of the terminals. Some children use the pre-boarding time to write letters to Santa, that will be hand-carried to the North Pole.
Once on the plane and all the seatbelts are fastened, the pilot heads to the North Pole via the “Secret Reindeer Route” (which amazingly, requires only about 45 minutes of flying time!). After landing, children and families enter “Santa’s workshop at the North Pole” where more entertainment awaits, along with food, fun, games, crafts – and of course, time with Santa, Mrs. Claus, and a host of elves and storybook characters. Children and families leave the event with photos, gifts, keepsakes from the adventure, and lots of big smiles!
Jeni Stepanek, Mattie’s mom and Executive Director of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, began attending this event with Mattie 20 years ago. Now, she is also a Faculty Associate at the University of Maryland, serving as an Education and Technical Assistance Specialist for Connections Beyond Sight and Sound (CBSS — the Maryland & DC Deafblind Project). Since Mattie’s passing, she has continued attending the annual Fantasy Flight, and celebrating the holiday event with many of the children and families who are a part of CBSS.
To learn more about this year’s event, and to view the CBSS Fantasy Flight 2014 Photo Album, please visit the CBSS News Story here…