Serena’s Song, the world’s first wheelchair-accessible hot air balloon, will return to Raleigh on July 12-14 to offer free rides to individuals with disabilities at Spring Forest Road Park, located at 4203 Spring Forest Road, just east of Capital Boulevard. Weather permitting, rides will be given all three days from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Rides will be provided on a first-come first-serve basis, with a priority given to children who use wheelchairs or have mobility impairments. Each day, the first 15 participants will receive a free Capital Area Transit (CAT) bag. This year, a clown will be on hand to entertain families waiting to ride.
CAT is sponsoring the visit by Serena’s Song. CAT’s parent company, Veolia Transportation, has been a Serena’s Song’s national sponsor since 2001. “Veolia Transportation has helped us continue to bring joy everywhere we go,” said Gary Waldman, father of 25-year-old Serena and the balloon’s owner. “I started flying Serena’s Song after taking my daughter on a balloon ride when she was 2 years old.”
Up to that point Serena, who had severe brain damage and cerebral palsy from birth, had not uttered a word. She lived virtually without any sign of emotion until she rode in a hot air balloon with her father. “Serena squealed with delight and laughter. That was the first emotion she ever displayed,” Mr. Waldman said. “I knew then that I would devote my life to giving children like Serena a chance to experience that same joy.”
Scott McClellan, Veolia Transportation General Manager of CAT, was the driving force behind bringing Serena’s Song to Raleigh. “We wanted to bring Serena’s Song to our community after hearing many stories describing the priceless smiles the balloon’s experience has put on children’s faces at other Veolia Transportation-operated transit systems” said Mr. McClellan.
Until Veolia Transportation stepped in as the sponsor for Serena’s Song, financial problems and an aging van and trailer threatened to force Mr. Waldman to discontinue his journey. Veolia Transportation officials provided a new van and trailer and now provide assistance in booking Serena’s Song for events through its many properties located around the country.
With this new breath of life that Veolia Transportation has provided, Mr. Waldman says he plans to keep Serena’s Song flying high. “With every event we go to, we look for our next miracle. If we can find it, nothing else matters,” he said.
Text of this post from City of Raleigh press release.