INTERVIEW: Disneyland Cast Member Shares How He Makes Magic Beyond the Park by Being a Big Brother

Throughout the year, Disneyland Resort Cast Members “voluntEAR” their own time to help organizations that matter to them. Countless groups are the beneficiaries of the cast’s generosity, and we had the chance to speak to Michael Estes, an Operations Manager with Food & Beverage who is a Big Brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters Orange County & The Inland Empire. We had the chance to get to know a bit about Michael.

Tell us about your Disney Career thus far:

I've been at the Resort for 17 years. I joined in 2005, the summer of the 50th anniversary celebration. I started in retail operations and then went to Cast Communications. That assignment really helped me understand that I really missed working at the park.  I went to attractions. That was my first foray into management. Then took an assignment  in Labor Relations. Then 2020 got really weird.

We shut down the park. That was a tough go. I then got to help get Downtown Disney back up and running. Helped with the mask enforcement and control the attendance in and out of the District, Then we opened up the park and I had always wanted to go to Foods and a spot opened up in Fantasyland food and beverage. I got into this role as an Operations Manager for Fantasyland Food and Beverage.

Share with us how you got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters Orange County & The Inland Empire:

A friend of my wife that was a part of Big Brothers, Big Sisters for Orange County. I had always had this misconception that if you're a Big Brother you had to help them with their homework or help raise them or do all this extra stuff and that it was going to be really difficult. In talking to our friend he said, "Hey, you just have to hang out once a month, maybe twice a month. That's all you have to do." And he said, "You get to do fun stuff. You can go to the movies, you can go mini golfing, you go to the park, shoot hoops, you don't have to create this elaborate hangout space. It's really just you're kind of there to help support, help support the child and mentor them and see what it is that they might need help with."

From that standpoint, after I got that information, I reached out to my Big Brothers, Big Sisters and applied and put my name in the hat for a little. My little is Ryan. When we started, he just turned 13 and I got to watch him graduate high school this year. Now I'm helping him kind of figure out the path from high school to college and what that's going to look like. For me it's been really fun and that's what I've been trying to tell a lot of people is whatever you think the time commitment is and the stuff you'll have to do, it's really not that much.

If you think about it binging a streaming series, it's four or five hours. You've got four or five hours, we all do, you have to make choices and prioritize. You just need to do a little bit of planning. You want to watch a movie, go take the kid to the movies and then you have to eat. That's kind of our thing. We'll find a new spot to eat at because I love food, so we'll find a new spot to eat at or grab food. I love to golf. I've taken him to the golf range and taught him how to golf and so he's not too shabby now, but at least that's an extra right skill that he's got that maybe he wouldn't have had before. The Big Brothers, Big Sisters program was able to actually sponsor him with a new set of golf clubs when they found out that we were going to the golf range.

While you VoulntEAR your own time, the Disneyland Resort also support Big Brothers Big Sisters Orange County & The Inland Empire. Can you share a little bit about that?

They have a program where they have the bigs and littles come to the Resort. I get to go and talk to the bigs and the littles about my career path. I think that's the part that's really fun for me is to tell these kids like, "Hey, look, I'm me, but I'm not a genius. You could also do this too. Also it's really fun, it's a really fun career. I've had a bajillion jobs in the last 17 years and it's not that you have to work at one spot or one thing, but that there is, and also maybe this isn't for you forever. I've talked to my little about maybe you get a role here and you work here for three months, maybe it's six months, maybe it's five years, I don't know, but this is a really fun place to learn a little bit more about yourself and everybody develop themselves."

I definitely did not have one job for 17 years. It's definitely been a lot of different jobs and so that's been fun. I love sharing that with the kids and helping them understand it's a bigger park than just attractions. Some of the kids we're talking about Engineering and I said, "Okay, we have that if you want it. It takes all kinds of Engineers to make these rides work. We need plumbers. We need electricians. We need pretty much every occupation you could think of. As I share that with my cast members that work here, "There's all this stuff out here that you may not have thought about. You may just have thought of attractions and outdoor vending, but there's a lot more here for you if you're interested."

As part of the Disneyland Resort workforce development initiative, which has touched 10,000 lives in five years. The Disneyland Resort recently announced $1.5 million in grants to Anaheim nonprofits and schools. In addition to volunteering his own time, Michael participates in Disneyland’s workforce development initiative speakers bureau.