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Balloon drifts nearly 170 miles, connecting kids with nursing home residents

On Oct. 9, a balloon landed at Star Elementary School in Hastings Mich., triggering a school project that's bringing joy to assisted living residents in Indiana.

HASTINGS, Mich. — It was well-known physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton who once said, "What goes up must come down."

What came down in the parking lot of a Michigan elementary school recently triggered a school-wide project that is bringing joy and an unexpected connection with several residents of an assisted living facility in Indiana.

"I came to the afternoon activities gathering with the residents, asking them, 'Hey gang, would you guys want to send these balloons up in the air with notes on them and see if we can get some responses,'" said Rebekah Thomason, who is the life enrichment director at Journey Senior Living in Merrillville, Indiana. "One by one, I gave them each a balloon with a note attached saying, 'If found, please write a letter to the residents of Journey Senior Living.'"

Credit: Journey Senior Living
The residents released 7 balloons, each with a note attached, on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Two days later, one of them traveled 162 miles to a Michigan school.
Credit: Journey Senior Living
The residents released 7 balloons, each with a note attached, on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Two days later, one of them traveled 162 miles to a Michigan school.
Credit: Journey Senior Living
The residents released 7 balloons, each with a note attached, on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Two days later, one of them traveled 162 miles to a Michigan school.
Credit: Journey Senior Living
The residents released 7 balloons, each with a note attached, on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Two days later, one of them traveled 162 miles to a Michigan school.

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Thomason led several residents out to the parking lot of the facility and they released seven balloons.

"It was cool to see them go up," said Thomason. "The residents were all excited to watch them go further and further away."

Two days later, at around 3:15 in the afternoon, Kristy Allen was winding down her work week as the secretary at Star Elementary School in Hastings, Mich.

"I just happened to be staring out my office window and a balloon dropped out of the sky and landed in the parking lot," said Allen. "I thought that was weird at first, and ignored it, but then decided to go out and get it because I didn't want it blowing around."

When Allen got the balloon, she noticed there was a note attached. It was the card written by Rebekah Thomason.

"There was an address on the back of the card and it said Merrillville, Indiana," added Allen. "We looked up where Merrillville is and it's about an hour southeast of Chicago. That balloon traveled 162 miles and of all places landed here."

Kristy showed the balloon to Amy Smelker, the school's principal. Smelker decided this would be a great school project, allowing every student to either write a letter or draw a picture for the residents.

"I think it's a really neat thing that it fell here so that the kids could send letters to people who were missing their families and probably haven't been able to see them since March," said Allen.

Credit: Star Elementary School
A card was attached to the balloon that landed at Star Elementary School in Hastings. On the back was the address to Journey Senior Living in Merrillville, Ind.
Credit: Star Elementary School
After the balloon landed, Star Elementary principal Amy Smelker decided to make writing back to the senior residents be a school-wide project.
Credit: Star Elementary School
After the balloon landed, Star Elementary principal Amy Smelker decided to make writing back to the senior residents be a school-wide project.
Credit: Star Elementary School
After the balloon landed, Star Elementary principal Amy Smelker decided to make writing back to the senior residents be a school-wide project.

On Friday, Oct. 23, Smelker collected 250 letters and drawings from the students, put them in a large envelope and mailed them to Journey Senior Living, as the card asked.

Three days later, 13 ON YOUR SIDE contacted Journey Senior Living to see if the package of letters had arrived. Not only had it not arrived yet, but administrators had no idea that one of the balloons had been found.

"Residents have been asking me every day if we had heard anything or have we gotten anything back yet," said Thomason.  "I had one resident who said he was going to sit on the couch until the mail came."

When told that one of the balloons had landed in the parking lot of an elementary school in Michigan, and the entire student body had written the residents letters, Thomason admitted it was emotional to hear that news.

"I'm not going to lie, our administrator and I both cried," said Thomason.  "We have 37 residents and they're all enjoying reading the letters and looking at the drawings."

The package of letters arrived in Merrillville Tuesday afternoon.

Credit: Journey Senior Living
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, the 250 letters and drawings, done by the students at Star Elementary School, arrived at Journey Senior Living in Merrillville, Ind.
Credit: Journey Senior Living
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, the 250 letters and drawings, done by the students at Star Elementary School, arrived at Journey Senior Living in Merrillville, Ind.
Credit: Journey Senior Living
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, the 250 letters and drawings, done by the students at Star Elementary School, arrived at Journey Senior Living in Merrillville, Ind.
Credit: Journey Senior Living
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, the 250 letters and drawings, done by the students at Star Elementary School, arrived at Journey Senior Living in Merrillville, Ind.
Credit: Journey Senior Living
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, the 250 letters and drawings, done by the students at Star Elementary School, arrived at Journey Senior Living in Merrillville, Ind.

Thomason says in an effort to properly say 'thank you,' the residents will put together a video which will be sent to Star Elementary School and shared with the students, with the hope that some of them become pen pals and stay in touch.

"It's pretty neat that a star-shaped balloon lands at Star Elementary School," said Allen. "It was meant to land here."