Party Pals fills hearts and balloons during Adopt-a-Grandparent project in the region

Being able to lift the spirits of another human being can be a rare and incredible feeling. For Sarah Bridgewater, it’s an experience she has been able to have 248 times over this year, all with the help of some colorful balloons and helium.

The students have delivered nearly 300 Balloon Buddies to people in nine facilities this year.Bridgewater, owner of Party Pals at 50 Salzburg Road in Bay City, first caught wind of the Adopt-a-Grandparent project in early 2021. The balloon community had put out a nationwide call to action, encouraging business owners to create “Balloon Buddies” for residents of nursing homes and care facilities. At that time, these facilities were closed-off to visitors and family due to COVID-19 concerns, leaving many without physical contact with their loved ones.

Bridgewater decided to take action with her business and was helped along by Amy Bricker’s third grade class at Bangor Central Elementary.

“She (Bridgewater) said, ‘I think we need to do this,’ and I thought, ‘I need to get on board with you,’ and it just kind of took off.”

Some students also delivered handmade notes and cards along with the Buddies. Bricker says, “Last year we were in the thick of the pandemic. We had a population of people who weren’t able to see anybody, or only through windows. How devastating for them to not be able to interact.”

The Adopt-a-Grandparent idea seemed like a perfect fit to Bricker, whose elementary building participates in the Positivity Project, an initiative that encourages the mindset of #otherpeoplematter amongst staff and students, Bricker says.

“I thought, what better way for kids to show that other people matter than to partner with her to bring joy to these people that were by themselves?”

As a team, Bridgewater and Bricker were able to adopt residents at nine different homes in 2021. Fast forward to this year, and Bridgewater was presented with the opportunity to make a difference once again.

“This year I was iffy because most places can have visitors now, but we decided to do it again and it was just as successful. It was so nice that we could go inside most facilities and hand deliver them,” says Bridgewater.

Seniors at facilities in Bay and Midland counties appreciated the visitors and the Buddies.In fact, Bridgewater and Party Pals had even more offers to help from the community in 2022. Bricker jumped at the opportunity to join again with her class, as well as teachers Amy Mika and Melissa Ramirez at Bangor Lincoln Elementary and Renea Klopf at Hemlock Elementary. Partners this year also included Wanigas Credit Union and Lord, Laughs, and Love.

Community members enthusiastically adopted these “grandparents” over the phone, on Facebook, and through other social media platforms, allowing Bridgewater to add additional facilities.

Bricker says, “We set out to do the Barton Woods facility in Freeland. Within three days we filled it! We even had people from as far away as California who called in and sponsored.”

After adopting 40 Barton Woods residents, Bricker and her students went on to also take care of all 20 women at the Rachel Sovereign Memorial Home in Bay City.

Working as a team and asking friends and family to adopt a grandparent for $10 each, the project participants managed to deliver 248 smiley-faced Balloon Buddies to facilities in the area, including Brittany Manor Living and Rehab Center in Midland, From the Heart Assisted Living in Bay City, Auburn Fields Assisted Living and Memory Care in Auburn, Barton Woods Assisted Living in Freeland, Stone Crest Assisted Living in Freeland, Rachel Sovereign Memorial Home, The Meadows, and Bay City Comfort Care.

In some cases, the students delivered the Balloon Buddies directly to the residents.The only stumbling block Bridgewater encountered this year had to do with materials. Some of the yellow balloons she had traditionally used were unavailable, forcing her to get creative. The result: festive, colorful Balloon Buddy arrangements that varied from building to building.

With most of the facilities and homes allowing visitors, Balloon Buddies were primarily delivered by Bridgewater, the teachers and students, and other volunteers.

“This year we actually got to see the reactions, and they were just thrilled. I had one lady who was sitting in the entryway during delivery, and every time I would walk in with a balloon she would say, ‘These are for us? Every single one of us gets one of these?’ She was so happy to think we would come in and do that for all 85 residents at Brittany Manor,” Bridgewater says.

Bricker agreed that being able to interact with the recipients made the experience even more rewarding for her students this year, many of whom had written notes or drawn pictures to deliver as well.

Bricker says, “At one of the facilities, we were knocking on their doors and delivering them right to their rooms. That was a total game changer. We could see the tears and receive the hugs this time. It was powerful to see 9-year-olds with these 80- and 90-year-olds. There was so much happiness in those rooms.”

“This didn’t just touch the residents’ hearts, but also the family members. We talk about the ripple effect. We drop one little bit of kindness, and it keeps spreading,” Bricker adds.

As Bridgewater braces herself for a busy prom and graduation season at Party Pals, she still looks ahead to next year’s project with anticipation and eager partners waiting in the wings.

“I think we will continue! The teachers that were on board this year are already so excited for next year.”