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Labor Day balloon fest will Color the Skies over Ripon
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RIPON – Jessica Coleman doesn’t want to see local residents traveling away for the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

And her reasons are far from selfish.

With the annual Color the Skies balloon festival – Coleman’s brainchild that has grown into a massive regional event which drew an estimated 30,000 last year – set for a fourth straight year that promises to be the biggest yet, the organizer whose original aim was to promote awareness and raise money for the Children’s Hospital of California, is still taken aback by the overwhelming response.

“We wanted to find a way to reach an enormous amount of people, but have it be the people that have children and may one day need to receive those services,” Coleman said of the Madera-based center. “It’s an event that has given a lot back to the community, and the community has definitely embraced it. I knew when I started this that I wanted to create something that I could leave the community, but every year I take a few minutes and get in the golf cart and drive to where I can see all of the people and just take it all in. Seeing it in action amazes me.”

The concept originated when Coleman, who used to live in Fresno and served on the Hospital Foundation’s Board of Directors (husband Greg is the current board director), wanted to find a different approach to a fundraiser that could also serve as an awareness tool to let the people of the community know that the hospital is there to provide services that they might be able to utilize.

Having a $250-a-ticket gala just didn’t seem to Coleman like it would be the right thing for a place that does so much for so many children.

So she turned to her past to find the inspiration for what has become a yearly event for some local families.

Originally from Boise, Idaho, Coleman remembered what it was like going to the Boise River Festival, an event that drew roughly half the state and included an amazingly beautiful display of hot air balloons that seemed to bring everyone together.

Having that in Ripon, she figured, couldn’t be that hard to pull off.

So by pouring herself into the concept, Coleman managed to convince the City Council to let her use the crown jewel of the city’s park system as the hosting ground and began the arduous task of assembling sponsors that would make the event worthwhile.

In addition to selling vendor space and several other methods, the non-profit organization sells ad space on the balloons that they launch – a unique approach for businesses that want to get their message into the sky.

Major event sponsors are included in the aerial advertising campaign.

On top of watching the balloons launch and fly, those in attendance can do everything from enjoying a pancake breakfast to watching a Beatles cover band, turning the two-day aerial display into something that the entire family can enjoy together.

The event also will feature for the first time The Patriots Jet Team , one of the nation’s premiere civilian-owned aerobatic squads. The Patriots will make a pass over the park as well as provide a demonstration of what their L-39 jets can do.

Rides in the jets during the flyover are being provided by the squad for a $5,000 fee which will be given to the organization to benefit the hospital. Four of these seats are available.

“I don’t think that our festival is like a lot of the other festivals that are out there,” Coleman said. “When it comes to the people walking around, you can kind of feel that this is something that’s all about the kids, and there’s something great in that. Once people see Color the Skies they won’t ever want to leave town for Labor Day ever again.”