(Times Bulletin/Lindsay McCoy)
(Times Bulletin/Lindsay McCoy)

BY LINDSAY MCCOY
Times Bulletin News Writer
lmccoy@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - Thursday afternoon a pre-event to the 2013 Van Wert Hot Air Festival was held at the Van Wert Regional Airport. Festival balloon pilots offered free distance balloon rides to media members from Van Wert County and surrounding areas. The main event included free tethered balloon rides to those in the community facing physical and mental challenges. Free meals were provided by the Van Wert Elks.

"I am feeling very good about today," said Event Organizer Jerry Mazur. "I think we are going to accomplish what we set out to do. We are expecting to see balloons in the air and get the people moving that we really intended this event for." The runway of the local airport was filled with those facing all sorts of life challenges including old age. Several nursing homes were on site to give the elderly a chance of a lifetime, something they may have never done before and may never get to do again.

Briarwood Village, a nursing home out of Coldwater, OH, was also at the event after their coordinator located the Van Wert Hot Air Festival. Briarwood Village holds a special program named JYM, Joy in Moments, that asks their residents to describe their lifelong dream or something that they have always aspired to do. Several of their resident's bucket lists included going on a hot air balloon ride, so six residents and six staff and volunteer members attended Thursday's event to fulfill these bucket list items.

Briarwood Village employee, Cheryl Laux, was also able to bring her daughter, Melissa, event not only to act as a volunteer but to take her own balloon ride. Laux noted that Melissa had been looking forward to the event all week and was really excited to take her first balloon ride alongside the residents of Briarwood. Melissa was sure to tell all her friends and teachers at school about this special opportunity.

A second nursing home whose main office is based out of Decatur, IN, attending this event for the second year in a row. One of their residents, Roxanne, was very excited for her first time in a hot air balloon and stated that she wasn't scared at all.

"I'm a little bit nervous," exclaimed Hearth and Home resident, Rita Clapp. "This is my first time in a balloon. My whole family came to watch." Hearth and Home from Van Wert had nine residents present for the special day.

Slight winds delayed the event from starting on time, but balloons were able to get off the ground and give rides to those in attendance.