Where: Sterling on the Lake, 7004 Sterling Blvd.
When: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. today
Admission: Free; parking $5. Proceeds benefit Challenged Child and Friends and the National Military Family Association
Gryffen Andrews was trying to keep warm Saturday morning with her brown jacket and blue gloves.
The 18-year-old Mill Creek High School student was up at 6 a.m. preparing for the Harvest Balloon Festival at the Sterling on the Lake community in Flowery Branch.
Not only was she a volunteer for the event, she was also one of 18 people who were able to take a one-hour hot air balloon ride over Lake Lanier.
Despite the fact that soaring above the trees would make some people shiver with fear, Gryffen Andrews wasn't nervous at all.
"It is a hot air balloon - it is one of those ‘you have to do it before you die' kinds of things," she said. "I'm excited because it is going to be cool to see things that you see everyday but in a different way."
Gryffen's mother, Kathy Andrews, wasn't worried about her daughter floating up into the sky.
"I've done it before, so I'm not that scared because it really is safe," she said.
Besides balloon rides, the festival offered pumpkin carving, trolley rides, cooking demonstrations, a costume parade, a live concert, kid games and much more. The event will continue today, with more festival activities until 5 p.m.
"I think we are going to have fabulous weather, and we have had great response to all of the advertising that we have done for the event," said Jennifer Landers, Sterling marketing director. "We are probably going to have the crowd of a lifetime here."
Landers expects about 5,000 people to attend the festival over the weekend.
This is the first year that hot air balloons were a part of Sterling's fall festival. Landers said that Sterling decided to add the balloons in celebration of the grand opening for their new builder, D.R. Horton Homes.
The lake community also decided to use the festival as a way to raise money and awareness for two nonprofit partners that help children and families who are facing difficult challenges. Though admission to the event was free, al money raised through purchases and parking fees will go to the National Military Family Association and Challenged Child and Friends.
The National Military Family Association provides resources and support to families of Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, NOAA and PHS. The association's Operation Purple program consists of summer camps for children of deployed military members. Camps are designed to allow families to reconnect after experiencing the stresses surrounding a deployment and reintegration.
"We have a lot of community members that have active military family members, retirees or young men who are just joining, so it really touches almost every family that we have," said Jenifer Pomerantz, Sterling activities director.
Challenged Child and Friends is nonprofit organization serving children with disabilities through state-of-the-art educational, therapeutic, nursing and family counseling services in an integrated environment.
"We have a lot of students that are helped by Challenged Child and Friends that also have parents who are actively serving, so it really does tie together beautifully," Pomerantz said. "They really do an amazing job — in one year a child can gain motor skills and communication skills and such a better quality of life compared to before he came to Challenged Child and Friends."
The money will be split evenly between the National Military Family Association and Challenged Child and Friends through Sterling on the Lake's community support organization, Sterling Life, a nonprofit organization which provides programs, activities and services to enhance life in Sterling on the Lake and the community at large, while achieving a legacy of sustainability.
Landers believes that the hot air balloons will become a tradition for the fall festival.
"This is everything any member of a family could want whether they are young, old, single, or a couple," Landers said.
"Who doesn't like funnel cakes and hot air balloons and face painting?" Pomerantz asked. "It is nice to have the community get together and feel the surge to give back."