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SOAR NWA to Bring Balloon Festival to Fayetteville

When: August 24th

Where: Drake Field in Fayetteville, AR

Admission: $10 for adults and $5 for kids.

Proceeds benefit: Open Avenues

Open Avenues, a local organization that works to enhance life opportunities for individuals with disabilities, will be hosting a fundraiser festival this summer called SOAR NWA. SOAR NWA will be a hot air balloon festival with live music, food and merchant vendors, and many other family-friendly activities. Skydive Fayetteville will also be on site offering adrenaline seekers an opportunity to jump out of a plane! We had the opportunity to ask Maddie Hendren-Hernandez, the Development Coordinator for Open Avenues, some questions about the planning of the event and what it means for Open Avenues.

1. Where did the idea to do a hot air balloon festival come from? I’m sure a lot of ideas were thrown around. How did you land on this one?

So many ideas! We were really looking for something special and something that would stand out within the community. We wanted something fun, but also affordable for the entire family to enjoy. The idea was thrown out about a Hot Air Balloon event, but we weren’t quite sure where to even start. To our surprise, our office manager Beverly heard us chatting and told us her brother, Jimmy Bolte, was a local balloonist. If this wasn’t a sign, we didn’t know what was – and under his guidance we jumped in feet first and came up with SOAR NWA.

2. This one seems to be grander in scale than more “traditional” fundraisers that happen in Northwest Arkansas. What inspired you/your team to do an event of this magnitude and was it difficult to get everyone on board with doing something a little different?

Initially, it was pretty easy to get everyone on board. The words “Hot Air Balloon” hold some sort of magical power over people. After the planning process really kicked off, I think that may have been where the hot air balloon magic started to wear off, and the realization of just how big of a task this is started to set in. Luckily, we have put together a great committee with leaders just as passionate about our goal as we are.

3. What are the challenges of putting on an event like this? 

I’d have to say the largest challenge is the weather and managing the spectators’ expectations. Hot Air Balloons aren’t very event reliable because the weather must be just perfect for them to launch, and they can only launch at certain times of the day. This is one of the main reasons we are having so many other fun activities for everyone to enjoy in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

4. There has to be a lot of moving parts when doing a hot air balloon festival. How do you manage every detail? 

We have a great committee of volunteers and sponsorship partners helping to keep SOAR NWA organized. Drake Field has also been great to work with and helping with the logistics of the airspace.

5. We are big fans of Open Avenues and what your organization does. What impact will the success of an event like that have on the clients who work at Open Avenues?

Thank you! We couldn’t do what we do without support from our community. For those unfamiliar with Open Avenues, we provide employment opportunities to people with disabilities. We’ve been around for 43 years because our service is so vital to this community. Not only are we providing our program participants with training and a paycheck, but we’re also providing them with the dignity of work that gives them an invaluable sense of belonging and purpose. The success of an event like this will mean that we can continue to provide these awesome services to an amazing group of people in our community, a service that sometimes gets overlooked. This is so much more than an event to the program participants at Open Avenues, this is growing our mission and exposing our vision to so many that may have never heard of us or known the need for our program. The success of SOAR NWA provides the capability of success for adults with disabilities in our community.

6. We have to ask what everyone reading this will be wondering: will you be taking part in the skydiving? 

I was afraid I was going to get this question at some point. I want to say I’m fearless, but even if I have time at the event – I’d probably need someone to straight push me out of the plane. If I’m calling someone out to skydive – It will have to be our Executive Director, Brenda Neal. Mainly because this is something I’d have to see!

A lot of planning and preparation is going into this event and we cannot wait to attend! SOAR NWA is looking for food/merchandise vendors and volunteers to make this event even more of a success. Head over to their website linked below to fill out an application!


For more information, visit:

Facebook Event Page

SOAR NWA Website

Open Avenues Website


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