During the finale of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Into The Woods" the now transformed and beautiful witch sings, "What do you leave to a child when you're dead? Only the things that you've put in its head." It's true. The future belongs to the children, and perhaps our greatest gift to them is what we put into their heads.
Balloonists around the country are being asked to put the love of ballooning into a child's head by sponsoring a Junior Balloonist through a new Balloon Federation of America program. The brainchild of Tina Reeves in St. Louis, Missouri, the program is aimed at kids from seven to seventeen who are in some way involved with the ballooning community, or want to be. Active balloonists, or in same cases parents, sponsor a young balloonist by registering the youngster with the BFA and paying the membership fee. In return, the sponsored youngster receives a BFA pin, a Junior Balloonist membership card, a crew logbook, and one year of "The Junior Flyer," a newsletter for the kids, where they can be in touch with what is happening in ballooning. It is an interactive newsletter where all aspects of ballooning are covered.
Though only a few months old, the idea is spreading rapidly across the country. By mid-June there were 75 Junior Balloonists from the states of Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, Oklahoma, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, Maryland, New Jersey, Missouri, Iowa, Washington, Louisiana and Wisconsin.
The goals of the program are ambitious. Like the pilot, observer and crew achievement programs already in place, Tina hopes for a similar BFA program where different achievement levels can be set up to give the Junior Balloonists goals to reach and to receive recognition for what they accomplish.
Another goal is to encourage safety seminars to add a section for safety issues for young balloonists. As many seminars have separate tracks for pilots and crew, Tina feels that a third track for juniors would be beneficial. Further, she would like to see a youth camp for the kids in the United States much like what Tomas Hora does in Germany.
One goal requests that rally organizers get on board too. The Junior Balloonists program can be an active recruiting force at rallies, and help get more young folks interested in the sport. The goal is to get rally organizers to include something for the Junior Balloonists at their events. In a pilot program [pun intended] Balloons Over Iowa recently added a separate registration table for the youth and put together a small crew packet just for them. They also had games for the kids. Mark Weeks reported that this was very popular and wasn't that much more work. Tina is also working with AAAA in Albuquerque helping Neida Courtney with the wonderful balloon exploratorium for kids at Fiesta.
Tina also sees a program in which local pilots go into schools and youth organizations to introduce the students or members to the sport of hot air ballooning. Plans include making a packet of information available to pilots that can be used to put together such programs. She also wants to see a library of training videos established that could be used by local clubs.
Not a bad set of goals, though ones that will require lots of support from the BFA board and the adult ballooning community to see them met.
The balloon manufacturers know a good thing when they see it, too. Although it may take more than a decade to bear fruit, they recognize that today's Junior Balloonists will be tomorrow's balloon buyers. Aerostar, Cameron, Lindstrand and Head have all pitched in to help by donating money to provide a cash award in an essay contest. The contest started June 1 and entries must be postmarked by August 31, 1997 with the winners announced at the BFA Annual Meeting in October at Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The contest is divided into two age categories, with a separate question for each. Children from ages seven to eleven are being asked to write about the most memorable ballooning experience they've had and the most important thing learned from that experience. The older group, twelve to seventeen years old, are writing on the skills and values they have gotten since being involved in ballooning and how they will affect one as an adult. In each division, entries must be at least 250 words but no more than 300. The entries will be judged by Bill Bussey, Lesley Davies, Richard Powell, Sr., and Karl Stefan. The author of the winning essay in each division will receive a $500.00 savings bond.
It doesn't take much to become a Junior Balloonist, just a sponsor and a few dollars. Membership costs $10 per year per child. Adults can get just the newsletter for $20 a year for non-BFA members or $10 a year if a BFA member.
It does take an adult sponsor to become a member. Persons wishing to sponsor a child, their own or someone else's, need only to submit the some information and payment of the membership fee to: BFA Jr. Balloonist Program, c/o Tina Reeves, 10472 Ashby Place Lane, St. Ann, MO 63074. Checks must be payable to the Balloon Federation of America. Additional information is available on the Internet at http://www.stlmo.com/skyangel, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 314-427-8298
The application must include: the Junior Balloonist's name, e-mail address (if any), mailing address, telephone number, birth date, name of BFA mentor, mentor's e-mail address (if any), mentor's relationship to Junior Balloonist, mentor's BFA Number, mentor's address, and mentor's phone number.
Tina Reeves is not alone in her quest to bring more young people into our sport, but she is to be commended for almost single handily taking on a project of this proportion, and of this importance. She, and those like her, believe in putting something of value in a child's head.