And, true to form, Manteno helped with the plan. One friend arranged their itinerary, while others assembled goody bags and games to keep the kids busy on the 18-hour drive to Florida. It seemed the entire town knew about the trip before the Blanchette children did.
"We know we can't make everything better," said Manteno resident Jenny Stawick, who arranged the travel. "But if we can make things easier for Alisa for five minutes or a day or a week, everybody wants to do it."
About three weeks before they left, Alisa Blanchette organized a scavenger hunt for the kids in which they retrieved puzzle pieces from neighbors. Once they collected all the pieces, they assembled a jigsaw puzzle that informed them they were going to Disney World.
The kids jumped up and down, shrieking and clapping. Two of the girls ran to the bedroom and started packing their suitcases.
Magic Kingdom provided the refuge Blanchette needed. The long days kept her busy, making it impossible to dwell on the date while racing around the park and too tired to think about it when she got back to the hotel.
She knew, however, that others back in Manteno would be marking the anniversary and saying special prayers for the family. Blanchette wanted to acknowledge their kindness during the past year even if she couldn't stay in town to personally thank them.
She posted a giant banner in her front yard before she left so the whole town could see it while out trick-or-treating. The professionally printed sign was purple and white in homage to the local high school's colors.
"Thank you so much for your love and support this past year Manteno!!" the sign read. "Love, the Blanchette Family."
The trip's only hiccup happened on the way back to Chicago, when the alternator on Blanchette's car died and left the family stranded just outside Atlanta. Once again, strangers came to their aid, as the local towing company, repair shop and hotel went out of their way to make the family's unexpected stay as brief and comfortable as possible, Blanchette says.
"My children now say how much they love Georgia," she says. "They think the world is filled with good people who want to help others. After everything we've been through, it makes me happy they see the world that way."
While pumping gas Thursday morning in Manteno, Alisa Blanchette spotted Cory's uncle, Kenny Bertrand, at the nearby McDonald's. He waved her over and introduced her to Philip Schouten, an 86-year-old Manteno resident who lost both his legs in World War II.
Bertrand told her that Schouten had been the person who anonymously paid her electric bill for the past year. Alisa embraced Schouten, thanking him profusely for his generosity.
Schouten, who had never met Cory Blanchette but had followed his teams' exploits for years in the local paper, told her about losing his legs when he was 18. When it happened, he thought his life was over, but he was able to rebuild it one day at a time.
"I just want her to know she'll get through this," Schouten says. "I believe she will be OK."
With a clean bill of health and a plan to run for re-election as village clerk in the spring, Alisa Blanchette is starting to believe it too.
"For the first time in a year, I can finally say that today is better than it was a year ago," she says. "And I have Manteno to thank for it."