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As the areas largest employer Walt Disney World should be expected to contribute back to the community. In many ways the company and its employees go beyond the call of duty and 2008 was no exception. From serving meals to the homeless to coaching Little League, Disney VoluntEARS dedicated a record 204,000 hours in 2008 toward improving the lives of Central Floridians.

This month, Walt Disney World Resort is celebrating and recognizing these efforts by donating nearly $950,000 to local non-profit organizations supported by Disney VoluntEARS.

“The dedication of our Disney VoluntEARS is absolutely inspiring and is truly making a difference,” said Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney World Resort. “I’m extremely proud that our Cast Members make Central Florida a better place for everyone. Their contributions are helping our community during a time when it’s needed most.”

Those of us of a certain age undoubtedly remember the tragedy, the incredible public outpouring of grief, and the immense sadness that surrounded the loss of Princess Diana in 1997. Personally, there is still a hole in my heart where her tremendous spirit of humanity once existed. I still have a set of video tapes from when I recorded her funeral and procession. Just thinking of it brings back memories of millions of flowers, to the point where flower shops were sold out nationwide, laid in her honor.

It has just been announced that the People’s Princess Charitable Foundation, Inc. (PPCF) is bringing “DIANA–The People’s Princess” – a major new exhibit of royal artifacts – to Walt Disney World Resort. Opening in early July 2009, this limited-time experience showcases the life and story of Princess Diana, one of the most iconic and inspirational figures in recent history, including a sampling of the royal dresses Diana chose to auction for charity and hundreds of authentic artifacts relating to her life.

“DIANA–The People’s Princess” exhibit will be held in the 17,500-square-foot setting at Downtown Disney West Side adjacent to DisneyQuest that formerly housed the giant record store. This unique exhibition is one of the largest collections of royal dresses and rare artifacts ever assembled for an American audience which provides an in-depth historical perspective of her life. The exhibit includes five rarely seen royal dresses worn by Princess Diana.

“We look forward to The People’s Princess Charitable Foundation bringing this unique experience to our Downtown Disney guests,” said Kevin Lansberry, vice president of Downtown Disney. “We remain committed to offering guests new and exciting experiences they can only have at the Walt Disney World Resort.”

“The late Princess used her globally renowned platform brilliantly,” commented Maureen Rorech Dunkel, founder of PPCF. “She understood that the many different experiences she had in her life, both positive and negative, made her more relatable to the public. She used this quality to connect to the common masses and in doing so became known as ‘The People’s Princess.’ She used her compassion to bring support to all those in need and is still to this date, almost 12 years after her tragic passing, regarded as one of the most influential humanitarians of all time.”

A hint at some of the items on display:

  • Royal Doulton figurine of Diana in her wedding dress – Made in 1981 at the time of the royal wedding, the doll is wearing an exact replica of the famous wedding dress.
  • The Black Velvet “V” Neck – Designed by Bruce Oldfield and worn by Diana for her official royal portrait in 1985.
  • Wedding Breakfast booklet – Contains guest names and two tickets to observe the bride and bridegroom before and following the wedding ceremony in the quadrangle at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House.
  • Three-foot doll of Diana as a young girl – Released by the Great American Doll Company in 1998 as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Tickets may be purchased at the exhibit – $14.50 (ages 10 and above), $5 (ages 3-9). The exhibition will run through Nov. 30, 2009. Hours are 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.  I hope you’ll join me there.