Balloon launch sparks response

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 20, 2006

AHOSKIE – Nell Whitley strained her eyes against a vivid blue sky on the morning of May 15.

There, she joined her fellow Guardian Care of Ahoskie residents as they took part in a kick-off for National Nursing Home Week, five days of activities that began with a lift-off of colorful balloons.

As the balloons, at least the ones that managed to avoid the nearby tree limbs, faded into the sun-splashed sky, no one knew where their helium-filled orb would find its way.

As it turned out, Whitley’s balloon drifted northeastward, crossed the Chesapeake Bay and landed on a sandy beach on the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Exactly two weeks after Whitley’s fingers released their grip on the balloon, John P. Chamberlain of Pocomoke, Maryland was walking along that same beach when he spotted something out of the ordinary.

In a letter to Whitley, Chamberlain explained what he witnessed.

“On Monday, May 29, my wife and I were walking along a beach of the Chesapeake Bay,” Chamberlain wrote. “I looked down when the ribbons of your balloon caught my eye. I picked up the balloon and that’s when I found your note.”

At lift-off, each of the Guardian Care balloons was accompanied by the following note (with individual names listed at the top and the facility’s address listed below):

“I am a resident at Guardian Care of Ahoskie. We are celebrating National Nursing Home Week with a balloon lift-off. If you find this tag, please send me a note and let me know who you are and where you found this tag.”

Chamberlain said in his letter that he and his wife were about five miles south of Cape Charles, Va. when he found the balloon. By motor vehicle, Cape Charles is roughly a two and one-half hour ride from Ahoskie, a distance of approximately 105 miles.

In his letter, Chamberlain inquired of the date of release, how many balloons lifted off and the number that had been reported as found.

Whitley responded that of the 150 balloons released on the morning of May 15, Chamberlain was the only one to respond as of late June.

“Yours is the only response we have received,” Whitley wrote in her letter to Chamberlain. “Thank-you for responding to my note. This has been a lot of fun and very exciting for me.”

Accompanying her letter to Chamberlain was a colorful drawing of 40 balloons lifting skyward.

“The residents here always enjoy themselves when we celebrate National Nursing Home Week,” Carolyn Pierce, Activities Coordinator at Guardian Care, said. “The balloon lift-off traditionally gets the week started and it’s always fun to listen in to the residents as they chat about whose balloon will travel the furthest and whose balloon will be the first to be found.”

According to Pierce, the fun-filled week at Guardian Care included visits from special guests within the local community, music, a picnic and homemade ice cream as well as other activities.