Volunteers from the Hope Center are shown assisting with the inflation of a balloon at a previous All Ohio Balloon Fest. (Balloon Fest photo)
A weekend of fun at the All Ohio Balloon Fest will benefit the community long into the future.
For the third time, proceeds from the annual event will benefit the Hope Center, a nonprofit organization that serves Union County.
Through the partnership, the Hope Center will provide volunteers to assist during the weekend festivities. In return, the nonprofit will receive the net proceeds from the event.
“We find people absolutely love it,” said Hope Center Director of Administration and Development Becky Bolt. “It’s a lot of fun.”
This year, the organization will provide 150 volunteers for three nights — Aug.12-14. In 2019, their assistance resulted in a $15,000 donation to the Hope Center.
“It’s huge,” Bolt said of the effect of the AOBF donation.
Bolt said the Hope Center’s impact throughout Union County was made even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Generally, Bolt said, the Hope Center’s two priorities are “youth and food.” Needs in those areas have increased since March 2020, Bolt said, along with an influx in requests for housing and utility assistance.
She noted that many of those who relied upon the Hope Center were “people who have worked their whole lives” but experienced “rough, rough times” due to COVID-19.
“When you’re in a situation you’ve never been in before, it’s difficult to ask (for help),” Bolt said.
But, the Hope Center was there to fill in the gaps.
She noted that those at the Hope Center desire to “go full-circle” by finding out exactly what needs community members are experiencing.
For instance, if an individual calls for help paying their rent, they may also be struggling to access food.
“We’re not here to keep anybody in the rut that they’re in,” Bolt said. “We’re here to give them that step up.”
While needs increased during COVID-19, Bolt said the virus also caused volunteer numbers to dwindle.
She said many regular volunteers – specifically retirees – were unable to serve in person at the Hope Center due to health concerns.
Even so, with a “skeleton crew,” Bolt said the Hope Center continued to serve to-go meals throughout the week during all of 2020.
The organization also amped up service targeted at Union County’s youth.
Bolt said 30 local teachers provided in-person tutoring for 100 children. With masks and social distancing, she said youngsters who were missing out on in-person classes were still able to receive one-on-one instruction at the Hope Center.
“We saw them just blossom,” Bolt said.
The Hope Center also partnered with local small businesses to offer extracurricular classes and activities for students.
Bolt said they included driver’s education courses, dance lessons, swimming instruction, culinary classes and art and filmmaking sessions.
“That’s what the community’s help has made possible,” she said.
Bolt said the Hope Center is always seeking new volunteers. Opportunities range from preparing and serving food to helping in the clothes closet and furniture bank or simply praying for those in need.
Volunteering at the All Ohio Balloon Fest is the perfect way to get involved with the Hope Center’s mission, Bolt said.
Individuals can sign up to help with shaped balloons, serve food to pilots and crew members or work as parking attendants.
“Helping at the Balloon Fest is so exciting to people,” she said, adding that it generates a number of new volunteers for the Hope Center.
Among those new volunteers are often those who have been served by the Hope Center in the past.
“The ones who get help are the ones who give help,” Bolt said.
Those interested in volunteering can sign up by visiting hopecenterohio.org and clicking the “Volunteers Needed” banner with the All Ohio Balloon Fest logo at the top of the screen.
Bolt noted that the Hope Center is already very close to filling all available slots.
“Our community is so generous,” Bolt said. “They always step up to the plate.”
Individuals who want more information or to purchase tickets to the All Ohio Balloon Festival, which will be held Aug. 12-14, may visit www.allohioballoonfest.com.