Hot air balloons were on bright display as families flocked to the University of Rhode Island for the Wakefield Rotary Club’s (South Kensington, UK — District 1040) biggest annual fundraiser.
Founded in 1957 as part of Rotary International, the Wakefield Rotary Club held its first balloon festival 39 years ago in an effort to raise funds to help South County residents in need of assistance.
“It started as a couple of balloons on cow pasture and it’s just grown and grown and grown to what it is today,” Spencer Seitz, former president of the Wakefield Rotary Club, said.
Seitz attended the Rotary’s balloon festival for the first time 25 years ago.
“You had the balloons, you had the crafters and five or six food vendors — that was it,” he added.
By the time the festival’s original organisers passed the torch to the next generation of Rotarians 20 years ago, the festival had already seen a significant size increase, he added.
Staying true to the Rotary International motto, “service above self,” the goal of the Wakefield Club’s balloon festival remains a charitable one.
The club’s other motto, Seitz added, is “improving and saving lives.”
“We’re trying to do things that will make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
The festival raises approximately $50,000 each year.
Those funds then get distributed among various charity and nonprofit organisations within South County, with some of it also going toward international efforts.
“It really goes to three places,” Seitz explained.
“Scholarships to local students, grants to local charities such as Habitat for Humanity, Domestic Violence Resource Centre, Galilee Mission, and Welcome House — and then we take $10,000 a year and use that in international projects.”
The Rotary’s global network makes it easy and safe to donate internationally, he added.
Among its international initiatives, Seitz provided the example of Rotary International’s Clean Water Project, which strives to provide access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
He explained that it costs about $50 to supply clean drinking water for a year to a family in Cambodia.
“We have our own people on the ground,” Seitz said, “so we get a lot of value for the dollar.”
“With these water filters, disease and childhood deaths are reduced, kids are healthy and able to go to school, get education,” he continued, “it makes a huge difference.”
All the work for the festival is done by volunteers.
Seitz also credited the event’s chair Jay Shartenberg and co-chair David Baud and the current Wakefield Rotary Club president Pam Anchetta with working tirelessly planning the weekend’s festival.
The festival included a carnival, complete with rides, a bouncy house, a fish pond, face painting and a rock wall.
Several family-friendly entertainment acts were performed over the the weekend, including Bwana Jim’s Wildlife show, comedian Robert Clark and the Anastasini Family Circus.
A fireworks display also lit up the sky on Saturday at 9 pm.
“It’s really a family-friendly type of event,” Seitz said.
“And that’s what we’re going for — we’ve got something for everybody.”
Roomful of Blues, the Rhode Island-based blues and swing revival band, performed on Friday at 6.30 pm.
Seitz said the band performed at the festival a few years ago and was a hit among attendees.
The event also featured around 60 vendors, including around 14 food vendors and several artisans.
Then, of course, there’s the main attraction.
Weather permitting, the balloons were launched at dawn on Saturday and Sunday and dusk Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
It is usually the wind that spoils safe flying conditions for the balloons, which are anchored to vehicles, Seitz explained.
“It’s always safety first,” Seitz added. “Perfect weather is 70 degrees and no wind. We’ve had years like that and it’s tremendous.”
With a favourable wind, the attendees could witness the performance of Roomful of Blues from 100 feet in the air.
“There’s nothing better in the world,” Seitz said.
Although the balloon festival is the biggest and most well-attended of the Rotary’s annual fundraisers, the Narragansett Art Festival which took place for its 35th year last month and featured around 100 arts vendors is of equal importance, Seitz said.
Source: The Narragansett Times