Up for a good cause

Sequim hot air balloon launches to help people with disabilities soar

One Sequim balloon’s buzz is soaring across the country.

Captain Crystal Stout, executive director of the Chrysalis 501(c)3 foundation and the Dream Catcher Balloon Program, is traveling with a crew across the Southwest U.S., helping a variety of people reach the sky who otherwise might not be able to.

In late September, Stout and crew members test flew the custom balloon at Sequim Valley Airport. The balloon offers a chariot instead of a gondola so that the pilot and passenger can slide on rather than climb. The intent is to make the experience available to people in wheelchairs and those who are physically and mentally challenged.

Stout and Casey Dennis, a crew member, designed the balloon together and worked on funding the project for more than three years.

Compared to other hot air balloons, Stout’s is much lighter at about 230 pounds for the burner system, the balloon fabric and chariot. It’s fully mobile and easy to travel with and set up to events, Stout said.

So far the group has traveled to events in Bonney Lake, Boulder, Colo., and Albuquerque, N.M. — Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Stout said they appeared at an Albuquerque school for the deaf on Oct. 2, giving rides, too.

“Our experience here so far has been amazing,” she said. “Pilots from around the world have been stopping to thank us for bringing this unique aircraft to life and giving wings to special needs.”

Stout said several pilots are interested in hosting a Dream Catcher balloon in their state as well — part of her vision for a nationwide program.

Before coming back to Sequim, they’ll give flights on Oct. 17 in Leavenworth for disabled veterans and others.

Stout said after the ballon was featured on a few TV stations she’s been receiving several calls and “people from all over are wanting to be in this balloon.”

Once in Sequim, the program will appear at the Pumpkin Patch all day on Oct. 25 to raise awareness and donations.

Working on this most recent trip were crew members Emily Westcott, Jeff Perry, Patty Schulze of Indianola, and Megan Black, Carl Peecher and Douglass Peecher.

For more information, visit www.dreamcatcherballoon.org.