LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County high school teacher is feeling a lot less magical this week after she found out she was one of the 28,000 theme park employees laid off by The Walt Disney Co.
“[Tuesday] night it felt like somebody ripped my heart out and they were like ‘Look what I got.’ That doesn’t come back,” said Tracey Downey, a history teacher at Ridge Community High School.
In addition to her teaching job, Downey spent 25 years making magic at Walt Disney World, beginning in 1995 in the college program.
“My favorite character in the entire world and my best friend is Fairy Godmother,” she said. “She’s been a part of me forever. I am who I am because of her, because of Walt Disney, because of the friends I met.”
Her last day working in the parks was March 12.
Her official last day of employment is in mid-December, according to the letter she received Tuesday night.
Downey is hoping to reconnect at least one more time with the Fairy Godmother before December.
“People go to Disney to enjoy the magic. We were the magic. We were the reason that people came to visit,” she said.
Downey feels grateful she still has her teaching job. Many of her fellow cast members are now unemployed.
“They’re the most incredible human beings I’ve ever known. They’re my family. Disney cast members are such a one of a kind thing. It’s really, really tough,” she said. “Giving back to them or purchasing these things or doing things to help them, it gives them worth.”
“There are a lot of really capable and talented people. You learn so much as a front line cast member,” said Sean Faulk.
Faulk, a former cast member, works for The DIS, a Florida theme park-based website.
The DIS is highlighting small businesses owned by laid off and furloughed central Florida theme park employees.
“Jewelry that they’re making themselves,” said Faulk. “We have some chefs that have been laid off that are world class chefs that have worked for Disney for decades at this point. They’re opening their own home delivery food options.”
As people begin holiday shopping, Faulk, and others, encourage Disney guests to give back to cast members.
After all, they provided all that magic for all those years.
“We just want to put it out there and let people know, local central Floridians know, about other people in central Florida in your own backyard that are running businesses that you can help with,” said Faulk.
The DIS plans to do more in the weeks and months ahead to showcase the cast member businesses, including video interviews.
If you are a furloughed or laid off Disney employee and own a small business, email firstname.lastname@example.org to participate.
“There is going to be a story a decade from now, of somebody who is like ‘I got fired from Disney during COVID and I launched my empire off of it.’ That’s going to be somebody and we want to promote whoever those people are going to be,” said Faulk.