Greg Coleman has served on the Children's Hospital Central California Board of Trustees for close to 20 years. Due in part to this connection, his wife, Jessica, began helping out at the Foundation 14 years ago. “Greg and I both have a strong commitment to our philanthropic work going to help children specifically,” said Coleman. “Every time we see a little patient and the little red wagon we’re like, OK, what can we do to help?”
Coleman doesn’t always wait for an answer. She’s been known to conjure up creative methods of helping the Hospital, and then carrying them out – even when her idea gives rise to a project that ends up taking her to greater heights than she ever imagined. One of the best ways to describe Coleman’s initiative may sound cliché, but to say “the sky’s the limit” gives an accurate – if not literal – picture of this energetic woman’s drive.
“I was trying to come up with an idea to really give Children’s Hospital a platform to get the word out in the North Valley,” said Coleman. “I wanted to do something to reach the people who would actually use the Hospital, and they’re not always the ones attending the $300-a-plate dinners.”
A free event for families fit the bill perfectly. But what would it look like? “I grew up in Boise, Idaho, where they had a three-day balloon festival and it was amazing,” she said.
“I thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be neat if we could do something like that here?’ So I said, ‘Let’s do it!’”
With no prior experience setting up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Coleman founded Color The Skies, Inc., in 2006, and became its president – a fulltime volunteer position. “The first five years were a lot of work, but now we have a great team,” said Coleman. The dedicated staff at Color The Skies is comprised almost entirely of volunteers. “We pay one person to do our books, but she volunteers her time as well.”
Coleman well remembers the hours and effort she put into her first balloon festival, held Labor Day weekend 2006. “It’s kind of like planning 10 weddings all on the same day!” she exclaimed. Preparing for the multifaceted festival included securing a location, signing up vendors, selling sponsorships, staffing the event with volunteers, publicizing it to the community and dealing with dozens more details – like attracting pilots.
“Obviously when you’re advertising a hot air balloon festival you want to make sure you have hot air balloons!” Coleman appealed to pilots all over California and even out of state. “We had nine balloons the first year, and this year we have 30,” she said. “This year we actually put a cap on how many balloons could be involved.”
Rise. Shine. Give.
The sixth annual Color The Skies Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place on Labor Day weekend, just like it has every year since it began. The goal of the festival has also remained the same, bringing awareness and financial support to Children's Hospital Central California. Two full days of family-friendly fun are scheduled to occur on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 3-4. Events and activities may include:
- Hot Air Balloon Launch
- Pancake Breakfast
- Vendor Booths
- 1 Mile Run, 5k Run and Kids’ Fun Run
- Patriots Jet Team
- Bay Area Skydiving
- Air George Helicopter
- Chuggabug Train
- Arts & Crafts
- BBQ Lunch
- Youth Entertainment (Clowns and more)
- Potato Sack Race
- Field Games
- Kite Show
- Bowl Races
- JROTC of Ripon High Activity Van
- Bungee Jumps and Bounce Houses
- Tethered Balloon Rides
- Hot Air Balloon Wheel
- Jr. Jet Ride
A giant likeness of George the Giraffe is positioned near the entrance to Mistlin Sports Park in Ripon, Calif., to greet attendees. George provides a visual reminder to everyone at Color The Skies Balloon Festival of the annual event’s two-fold purpose:
To raise awareness and financial support for Children’s Hospital.
The giraffe’s heart is positioned to move up like a thermometer to represent the amount of money raised during the festival. “Right now it’s at the ankle,” said Coleman. “And we want to put the heart in the right place.”
Coleman presents three convincing reasons to participate in this annual event.
1. Cost Effective Way to Raise Funds
“Just like with the Guilds, it’s more cost effective to let us do the fundraising for the Hospital,” said Coleman. “That way they don’t have the expense of doing it.”
Coleman works year round on Color The Skies, volunteering every minute of it. “Our overall operating fees are like 3 percent, which is almost unheard of in fundraising,” she said. Coleman spends July and August fine-tuning logistics for the September event. Then from October through June, she hits the speaking circuit. “I‘ll speak to service clubs, anybody who will let me come – Rotary, Soroptomist, Kiwanis. They’re already givers and a lot of them are getting involved,” she said. “What I’d love to do is get in front of the Rotary’s international conference to bang the drum for Children's Hospital!”
Color The Skies had raised a total of $50,000 by the fourth annual festival in 2009. Another $50,000 was raised last year, doubling the amount given to date. Coleman is pleased with the $100,000 contribution, and has set higher goals for the coming years. “We’re going into our sixth year,” she said. “When we get to half a million dollars, then I’ll be happy. Together we can give a larger gift than any one person could make alone.”
Money raised in 2010:
- Pancake Breakfast: $12,000
- Vendor Booths: $10,000
- Parking Fees: $10,000
- Thousands of activity tickets were sold for $1 a piece. (More than 10,000 people attended the event.)
“Color The Skies is a free event,” said Coleman. “And everything you do spend your money on goes directly to Children's Hospital. People give when they know the mission of the organization and when they know how much of what they give is going toward it.”
2. Targeted Way to Increase Awareness
“This is about raising awareness,” said Coleman. “We’re not just concerned about the fundraising. We want families to know the facility is there for them in a time of need. People in the North Valley need to know the Hospital is there.”
Children’s Foundation hosts a booth at the balloon festival for the duration of the event, where staff members provide information about the services provided by Children’s Hospital Central California. “It’s great to have them there to answer questions the public may have,” said Coleman. “Most of the people attending the festival don’t even know about the Hospital.”
Coleman regularly surveys her crowd, which consists primarily of North Valley families. She learned most are not aware of the highly-specialized medical services in 40 pediatric specialty and subspecialty areas provided by over 525 practicing physicians at Children’s Hospital. Color The Skies provides the perfect venue to introduce residents to the pediatric regional referral center for all of Central California. Located on a 50-acre campus north of Fresno, this 348-bed medical center exclusively for kids is one of the 10 largest hospitals of its type in the nation. Children's Hospital Central California treats more inpatient cases than any pediatric hospital north of San Diego. Coleman wants families to know they do not need to travel to major metropolitan areas to receive high-quality, comprehensive pediatric healthcare.
3. Entertaining Way to Involve Community
“People always get a smile on their face when they talk about the festival,” said Coleman. “It’s taught us what community is. I didn’t know anyone in this town until I started this balloon festival.”
Color The Skies brings together sponsors, vendors, volunteers and members of the community for two days of pure entertainment. Hot air balloons fill the skies with bold colors bright and early. Later in the day a kite show decorates the wind. Bay area sky divers make an appearance at the festival as well, landing in the middle of the field with a partner daring enough to purchase a tandem jump to benefit the Hospital. A generous contribution to Children’s may secure a seat in a fighter jet. The Patriots Jet Team takes passengers – decked in military fatigues, a helmet and sunglasses – on their acrobatic, G-force-pulling flight over Mistlin Sports Park. For the slightly less adventurous, tethered hot air balloon rides take travelers on a more leisurely flight for a donation to Children's Hospital.
“Our crowd is truly a place where you don’t have to worry,” said Coleman. “It’s incredibly safe, incredibly clean, and incredibly all about family.”
The event’s positive image, community involvement, and association with a respected pediatric medical center make Color the Skies the perfect giving opportunity for businesses located in and around Modesto. “I ask them, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to put a face on your generosity?’” said Coleman. “From a business perspective the sponsors are getting a lot for their participation. We give our sponsors just as much value as they’re giving us, if not more.” Many costs can be underwritten for naming opportunities at the festival, and sponsorship packages can be purchased, which include multimedia advertising before and during the festival. “In 2010, our Color The Skies partners enjoyed $185,000 of free media coverage!” Coleman exclaimed.
In addition to contributing financially, businesses and community members have also demonstrated their support for the Hospital through volunteering. More than 400 volunteers helped with setting up barricades, stage equipment and tents last year. “Whole families come out in their lime-green volunteer shirts to help us on event weekend,” said Coleman. “We’ve also had a huge corporate presence with employees volunteering. They wear their own company T-shirts.”
Several Children’s board of trustee members purchase sponsorships through their companies, and others serve as food and beverage vendors, who generously donate all proceeds to the Hospital. “Our relationship with board members has been so valuable over the years,” said Coleman. “They have been critical to the success of this event.” Coleman expressed gratitude for the growing support Color The Skies has received since the first annual event six years ago. “We’ve gone from 10 vendor booths the first year to 60 booths last year,” she said. “It really did start as, ‘wouldn’t it be neat if?’ and it has grown into something I didn’t expect so quickly.”
When the average Joe finds himself involved in a project that took off faster than he expected, he slows down, or even stops. But Coleman is no average Joe, nor is her husband, who has supported her from the beginning. “I look back at the founding mothers, and here were five concerned, purpose-driven women who wanted to help the children in our Valley,” said Coleman. “I have a lot of pride in what I do because I see that torch, and they were able to pass that torch to me,” she said. “I want this festival to continue for many years, and I’d love to pass the torch at some point.”
When asked the source of her boundless energy, Coleman had a ready answer. “Colemans aren’t quitters,” she said with conviction. “That’s the mantra we tell our kids. Colemans are not quitters!”
As long as new people move into the North Valley, who have never heard of the amazing people and incredible care at Children's Hospital Central California, Coleman’s mission to raise awareness will continue. And as long as ill and injured children need a state-of-the-art hospital in the heart of the Golden State, Coleman’s efforts to raise financial support won’t stop. “If there wasn’t a need at Children's Hospital, we wouldn’t be doing this,” said Coleman. “But we know that there is a need. We’ve had the opportunity to see it and we have the resources to do something about it.”
Children's Hospital Central California hopes North Valley businesses and residents find Coleman’s three reasons to participate in Color The Skies compelling enough to get involved. The Hospital would like to suggest one more: It’s a rewarding, feel-good way to help the children.
Print a flyer for the event to share with friends!