Hi, my name is Charity Falk. My daughters, Cadee and Emma, and I had the privilege to attend the 26th annual Cher’s Family Retreat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This was our very first retreat and, gosh, was it life-changing! My daughter Cadee has Goldenhar Syndrome and was very nervous to go to the retreat. (Heck, we all were.) She made every excuse possible to try and get out of it, but Annie and I eventually got her to go! You see, Cadee is an extremely shy person. Meeting new people and, honestly, sometimes just going to the store, is extremely difficult for her, so she was very apprehensive about going.
Once we got to the retreat and started meeting all the wonderful and welcoming families there, our nerves started to go away, and talking to each new person got easier and easier. Everyone welcomed us as if we had known them for years.
On our first day, both girls attended several symposium sessions. Cadee went to one session about “Becoming My Independent Self,” Emma attended a session for siblings called “Hey, Don’t Forget About Me, ” and they both attended a session called “10 to 18-Year-Olds with a Facial Difference and Siblings: How to Be a Friend and Choose Kindness.” Again, Cadee was very nervous about going and did not want to be called on during the sessions, but she came out with confidence and a smile. Emma told me that I would have been very proud of how much Cadee opened up and participated.
After the symposiums and dinner, we went to the ice cream social and had the opportunity to meet some very special people who we have stayed connected with since the retreat!
We had tons of fun during the retreat! There was so much to do at the hotel that we decided to stay at the hotel almost the entire time. We took a walk down to the pier and got to see a very well-known country music singer’s yacht/boat. We went to the pool, played on the swings, laid on the hammock and played ping pong. One day we had an outing at the beach, and it was absolutely beautiful! It was so very different than the beaches we are used to in Louisiana.
That night was the dinner and dance. During the dance, Cadee told me that she never wanted the retreat to end. She was one of the first kids to get on the dancefloor, and she even did the conga line! Her favorite part of the night was dancing with all the little kids. That night I cried, not because I was sad but because I saw my daughter not once worry if someone was looking at her or if someone was staring at her face.
The whole retreat I watched her blossom, but that night she was carefree. In 13 years I’ve never seen her let her guard down around people she had just met a few days before. Her happiness was infectious, and all I wanted to do was smile and stop time. We took tons of pictures, exchanged phone numbers and emails, and became Facebook friends with so many new friends. I am overwhelmed at how welcoming, caring and accepting everyone was.
On our last day, we had to say a fast farewell, because we had an early flight. We took more pictures with everyone, but one of our favorite pictures was with Cadee’s fellow Goldenhar kids! This was the first time she has ever met someone with the exact same syndrome as her, and getting that opportunity was priceless! They are all now friends and she has stayed in contact with some of them since the retreat.
Women and Girls