As early as 2018, Rise officials — formerly known as the Pinebelt Christian Men and Women’s Job Corps — floated the idea of a hot air balloon festival in Hattiesburg to help raise funds for their mission to educate, empower and encourage people to be self-sufficient.
Those plans were temporarily derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but are back this year with the inaugural Rise Hattiesburg Balloon Festival, scheduled for August 12-13 at the Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center. The event will feature 11 hot air balloons and several other activities over the two days, including petting zoos and live music.
“We have been a 501 (c3) non-profit organization in Hattiesburg for 22 years; we network with all the other nonprofits,” said Catherine Jorns, Executive Director of Rise. “So we were trying to do something to do a fundraiser that would be exclusive, and when somebody heard about it, they were like, ‘Oh, it’s Rise.’
“Also, during this time, we wanted to do something that would uplift Hattiesburg as a whole and be good for all of us – the economy and all of the nonprofits, etc. It came to me one day, and I feel like it was God speaking to me about a hot air balloon festival. So we started planning and launching it, and it seemed like everyone we talked to was just super excited about the opportunity.
On August 12, event attendees can expect a patriotic balloon glow from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., as well as the Tiger Trac Aviation team, food vendors and live music, and a showcase honoring the military and first responders.
“At the Patriot Show, we will have an air show with a formation of pilots coming (to honor these members),” Jorns said. “So it’s going to be a great show on Friday night too.”
At 6:00 a.m. on August 13, the event will include a hot air balloon flight/takeoff, followed by the opening of the vendors from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. A balloon glow will take place from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. that day.
Coffee and donuts will be on hand, as well as food, live music, a “Kid’s Korner” and petting zoo.
Admission to the general event, as well as parking, is free for adults and children. Pets, glass, smoking, umbrellas, outside food or drink, coolers and weapons are not permitted.
“We want everyone from all walks of life to be able to come and see the balloons and see what’s going on,” Jorns said. “They will have the opportunity to experience something that we hope will be a legacy builder.”
Additionally, tethered hot air balloon rides will take place during the balloon glow on both nights, weather permitting. Tickets for this experience are $15 each for ages 13 and under and $20 for ages 14 and older, and will be sold at the Merchandise Tent on a first-come, first-served basis.
“We’re expecting a huge crowd, and we’re so excited about it all,” Jorns said. “Honestly, we’re sort of on the spectrum of around 20,000 (visitors) – some people have estimated even closer to 30,000.
“But because it’s a multi-day event, it won’t be as crowded, and also, there are really four different time periods. They have the Friday night event, and then you have the early event on Saturday morning, and then you’ll have the indoor event and the Saturday night event, so you can kind of come and go.
RISE began as Pinebelt Christian Women’s Job Corps in 2001 and began as a partnership with PACE Headstart working with mothers of children involved in the Headstart program. Soon after, this partnership quickly added Christian Services.
The organization works with the Mississippi Department of Social Services, the Salvation Army, Pine Belt Mental Health and several others. Through these relationships, Rise incorporates client needs into its vocational training and helps find employment for participants.
For more information, visit www.risenonprofit.org.