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South by Southwest: Omaha South High Soccer Builds Makings of Dynasty on Diversity

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

South by Southwest: Omaha South High Soccer Builds Makings of Dynasty on Diversity

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-perico.com)

 

The feel-good story of Omaha South High School’s boys soccer team nearly got lost in the aftermath of last week’s state championship game. The Packers lost 4-2 to Lincoln East at Creighton’s Morrison Stadium. Marring the action was a small group of Lincoln East fans waving American flags during the contest. In the post-game rush celebrating the win some East fans littered the field with fake U.S. resident “green cards.”

Few among the record 5,800 in attendance actually saw the incident, which happened amid a tangle of bodies. When reporters on the scene informed South Coach Joe Maass what occurred he confronted East coach Jeff Hoham.

In the ensuing flood of media coverage the offending East students were suspended. Students and officials from the schools have expressed outrage and regret. Messages have been exchanged. A face-to-face dialogue convened. All to work through the hurt feelings. Practically everyone agrees the insults were racist taunts targeting predominantly Latino South. The provocative symbols inferred illegal status in what is already a tense climate over immigration. East has a largely white student body.

What should have been a capstone moment for South, whose graduation ceremony was held blocks away before the game, instead became fodder in the growing culture war. South officials say the stunt was just the latest insensitivity the school’s endured.

“There’s been incidents throughout the season and throughout my 11 years here,” said Maass. “It’s always been there.” Principal Cara Riggs said “inappropriate comments” have been directed towards “not just our boys soccer team, but also our nearly all African-American boys basketball team. They too have suffered from similar situations.”

She noted frustration with schools “minimizing” such events but credits East staff and students for trying to make things right.

As inevitable as it may be for what transpired to be headline material in the raging immigration debate, the greater lesson is how a team from a diverse inner city school achieved great heights and didn’t take the bait when egged on.

Maass has guided the program from awful to elite. Fueling the turnaround is talent from feeder South Omaha and Bellevue soccer clubs, notably Club Viva. The mostly Latino players bring a fluid style of finesse, quickness, creativity he terms “beautiful to watch. The average kid comes here with natural foot skills and an understanding of the game. A lot of the fundamentals are there.” Plus, he said, “they want to play passionately.”

South’s lone non-Latino player, junior Alex Stillinger, came from Viva, too. He was South’s leading scorer in 2010 and he calls playing for South “an honor.” He and his teammates describe themselves as “family.” Junior Guillermo Ventura, whose brother Eric made the squad as a freshman, said, “all my teammates are my brothers.”

MATT DIXON/THE WORLD-HERALD

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The coaching staff is a mix of ethnicities, including Greece native Demitrios Fountas.

Diversity is not isolated to the soccer team, said Riggs: “Our students who live in a very diverse school population…are respectful of each other’s cultures and differences.”

The Packer faithful at the state title game included Latinos and non-Latinos. “It gives us some real pride to have the power back in one of the sports,” said South High grad Tom Maass, an uncle of coach Joe Maass. Sergio Rangel, who knows several South players, said the team’s success “is a good thing for the community.”

Coach Maass believes South’s new Collin Field came to fruition when alums and backers of largely Eastern European ancestry put their faith in the Latino-led soccer program as the school’s best chance at reclaiming its long dormant athletic glory. The regulation soccer field offers a decided home advantage. South’s unbeaten there.

His first five years brought only a handful of wins. But steady progress has resulted in three state tourney appearances in four years. In 2010 the program set a school record for single-season wins, 20, and achieved several South High soccer firsts: a No. 1 ranking; a district championship; a win at state; and a championship game berth. As departing senior star Manny Lira put it after South finally beat its longtime nemesis, Creighton Prep, in the state semifinals, “It’s history within history within history.”

“Yeah, this is huge, I can’t even put it into words right now,” Maass said after South beat Lincoln Southeast for the District A-3 title. “We’ve been building to this with every little stepping stone. Every year we’ve improved a little bit. Where we’re at and where we were are two different stories. It’s been a complete reversal. People used to pat me on the back and say, ‘Oh you’re making the kids so much better.’ Now when I beat their teams I don’t get that anymore. Now it’s kind of like they can’t stand me.”

The truth is, anytime South plays a Millard, Papillion, Westside or Prep, there’s a clash of inner city-suburban, poor-wealthy, Latino-gringo. Maass said despite some bigots most opponents “respect us in the end. People actually believe we’re good now. We’ve closed the gap for sure. It’s not a fluke, it’s the real deal.”

More important, he said, is how South soccer “is building a lot of pride within our community and our kids.”

“The community has something positive to look at now at South rather than the low test scores or low graduation rates,” said Guillermo Ventura. “The community is appreciative of the school and the kids and what we have to offer.”

Before the state championship game against unbeaten and nationally ranked Lincoln East Maass said, “I’ve been telling everybody regardless of the outcome of this game the community interest and support and enthusiasm I’ve seen from all walks of life far outweighs whether we win or lose, and it’s always kind of been about that here until the tradition’s built. Then I suppose it’ll be about winning championships.”

Even after the loss, he sounded upbeat, saying, “This is the best game I’ve ever been to in terms of crowd support, South Omaha support. I’ve never been so proud to be from South Omaha in my life. Seriously. This is the pinnacle.”

Maass feels with the pipeline that’s in place it’s just the start of something big.

“I hear stories now of middle school kids wanting to come to South and play soccer, and so I’m hoping we can build on this and create kind of like an every year trip to state and possibly win a state championship.”

Graduated goalkeeper Billy Loera, who set a state record with 37 career shutouts predicts “there’s a lot more to come.”

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Roger Garcia: Servant Leader

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Garcia Makes Community Service his Life’s Work

©by Leo Adam Biga

Origiinally appeared in Omaha Magazne

 

Roger Garcia fits squarely in the mix of young professionals taking their turn at leading Omaha.

As a former special assistant to Mayor Jim Suttle on urban affairs and community engagement, Garcia kept close tabs on issues impacting Latinos. Today, he continues doing the same as a community volunteer and activist with his eyes set on earning a master’s degree in public administration to prepare for the non-profit leadership role he expects to assume one day.

His community focus right now extends to serving on the boards of Justice for Our Neighbors Nebraska,the  Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Brown-Black Coalition of Greater Omaha. He also works with the Latino Academic Achievement Council and the South Omaha Violence Prevention-Intervention Initiative.

He chairs the Nebraska Democratic Party Latino Caucus, which actively addresses issues like redistricting and immigration.

He’s so busy he’s had to hand over the reins of the Omaha Metro Young Latinos Professional Association he founded and led.

His deep concern and involvement keep him attuned to what’s going on and to where he and the organizations he represents can help.

“I do need to know what’s going on in the community and to see where we can help out if at all possible,” he says.

Everywhere he looks, he sees young professional making a difference.

“It’s definitely a growing community that’s being sought after more and more. Lots of people are wanting to know where we stand and what our opinions are. They want us to get involved because we bring that new energy or new mind frame. Our technology-social media skills are in demand.

“I think it’s a population that will definitely gain in influence. Clearly, we’re the leaders of tomorrow.”

He’s glad the distraction of the mayoral recall election has passed and the city administration and the community can move forward as one.

“Luckily that’s over and we can focus on just bettering the community.”

For Garcia, there’s no higher calling than public service.

“I love working with people, I love trying to help people better themselves. It’s just something I truly enjoy doing. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to serve.”

Roger Garcia: A Young Man on the Move

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-perico.com)

 

Roger Garcia is a young man in a hurry.

He took a job in Mayor Jim Suttle’s office last June at age 22, a full year short of graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Now, eight months into his position as Community Liaison this dual psychology and Latino/Latin American Studies major is slated to earn his bachelor’s degree in May.

He can hardly wait. Next up is an Omaha Board of Education bid and then either law school or pursuing his master’s in psychology, an educational-career path he said he chose “because of my love of interacting with people, which ultimately leads to a love of helping people and serving people.”

Growing up, first in Los Angeles, then in Schuyler and Columbus, Neb., Garcia was precocious, alway excelling in school and involved in community activities. His parents’ split-up in L.A. precipitated his Honduran immigrant mother Margarita coming to Neb. with Roger and his two older brothers. His mother had a cousin living in Schuyler.

The culture shock was profound.

“It was completely different going from a humongous city to a tiny Midwestern town of about 6,000 at that point,” said Garcia. “I had never seen snow, I had never seen cows. The demographics were completely different. I was just one of about three maybe four Latinos in my class. Today, if you go to Schuyler it’s like 95 percent or more Latinos in the elementary school. It’s pretty interesting how it’s changed.

“It did require adjusting but ultimately I truly liked the Nebraska lifestyle, even the small town lifestyle.”

After two years in Schuyler, where his mother worked in a meatpacking plant, the family moved to Columbus. The Garcias again found themselves part of a small minority community.

“Being a Latino newcomer, especially to those small towns, there’s a lot of good experiences and there’s a lot of bad experiences as well,” he said. “I don’t like to dwell on the bad experiences but they did happen. Of course, there’s a lot of racism in smaller towns, going as far as violent acts I saw towards my friends. Luckily no physical violence was done to me but there were things like random yelling at me and my family.

“But there’s a lot of good things that came from living in those small towns. It’s a great peaceful atmosphere. Most of my friends were Caucasian and I learned a lot from them and their families. And I am bicultural as far as having that small town Nebraska experience and learning the cultures of my parents.”

His father’s from Mexico and his step-father’s from Guatemala. His dad’s been out of his life for some time, his mother only remarried a few years ago and his brothers don’t share his passion for education. His mom pushed him to achieve.

“She’s always promoted my getting an education and she’s been there for me through my process,” he said. “She always wanted me to get those straight As and that really influenced my desire for knowledge in general, something that’s very big in my life. I love to read — history, literature. I have a passion for knowledge and learning.”

His interest in politics and government was stoked by the events of 9/11. He became a news junkie fixated on U.S. policies, issues. Upon graduating high school and enrolling at UNO his interest shifted to events closer to home. Two important figures in his life became UNO’s Lourdes Gouveia and Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, who gave direction to his social justice bent.

“They got me involved in some political and voter mobilization campaigns. I learned a lot about policy that directly affects the Latino community. So they’ve definitely been mentors to me. I appreciate both of them.”

Garcia became an advocate and organizer with grassroots initiatives aimed at overturning anti-immigrant legislation. His role: educating the community about the impact of bills and encouraging people to participate by letting their voices be heard.

“I have a passion and a drive to just help people, stand up for them, in an educated and professional manner of course. I need to be informed on the topics.”

He worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies, the Anti-Defamation League and the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute. His interest and experience coalesced when he worked on the Suttle campaign doing bilingual phone calls, canvasing South 24th St. and connecting then-candidate Suttle with local Latino leaders.

After Suttle’s victory Garcia posed ideas to the new mayor and staff about interacting with the Latino community and they liked his ideas so much, he said, “they offered me a position.” He chairs the South Omaha Advisory Committee he created himself.

“One of my main objectives coming into this is just making sure people within the community have a direct line of communication to the mayor’s office,” said Garcia. “Some people feel detached from government, that it’s hard to get straight answers, so I wanted to make sure people felt they could contact us directly and they had a source that would reliably reply to them.

Since the mayor can’t be everywhere, as a community liaison I can go to meetings for him. That’s a big part of it, being in the community, seeing what the needs are, what the happenings are.

“That’s why it’s so important to meet so many organizations and people, so they can feel comfortable that if they have any question they can just call me and they will get an answer. Sometimes I’ll join a committee or a board just to be at the ground level in the community with some projects, helping out in whatever we can utilizing city services.”

There’s no where he’d rather be.

“Doing community service is just something I love to do, so to incorporate it into my job, that’s beautiful.”

A Talent for Teaching and Connecting

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

A Talent for Teaching and Connecting

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico (el-perico-com)

 

Liberty Elementary School kindergarten instructor Luisa Maldonado Palomo has reached the top of her field as a 2010 Alice Buffet Outstanding Teacher Award-winner.

The Gering, Neb. native is the grade leader at her Omaha school. She heads outreach efforts to parents, many of them undocumented, through the Liberty Community Council. She’s a liaison with partners assisting Liberty kids and families. The school engages community through parenting and computer classes, food and clothes pantries, and, starting in the fall, a health clinic.

Colleagues admire her dedication working with the school’s many constituents.

“She truly reaches the whole child —  behaviorally, academically, socially, emotionally — and then steps beyond that and reaches the family too,” said Liberty Principal Carri Hutcherson. “We can count on her to do a lot of the family components we have at Liberty because she gets it, she has a heart for it, the passion, the drive, the focus, all those great things it takes. She’s an expert practitioner on so many levels.”

But there was a time when Palomo questioned whether she wanted to be a classroom teacher. While a Creighton University education major she participated in Encuentro Dominicano, a semester-long study abroad in the impoverished Dominican Republic. She described this immersion as a “huge, life-changing experience” for reawakening a call to service inherited from her father, Matt Palomo.

“My dad has spent his whole life doling for others,” she said. “He comes from a migrant worker family. He gave up a college scholarship to work so he could help support his nine brothers and sisters. From the age of 15 he’s been involved with the Boy Scouts as a scout leader. He just celebrated his 45th year with the Boy Scouts of America.

“He’s always worked with underprivileged youth, Hispanic or Caucasian, in our small town. He’s such a role model for so many young boys who’ve gone through that program. He has such a sense of what’s right and wrong and he’s instilled that in my brother and sister and I.”

 

Luisa Palomo (standing) talks to Primarily Math Cohort 3 LPS on June 6.Luisa Palomo (standing) talks to Primarily Math Cohort 3 LPS on June 6.

 

In the Dominican Republic Luisa felt connected to people, their lives and their needs.

“You work, take classes and live with families,” she said. “You learn the philosophy and the why of what’s going on. You really learn to form relationships with people, which isn’t something that always comes naturally to Americans. Here, it’s always more individualistic and what do I need to do for myself, whereas in a lot of other countries people think about what do I need to do for my community and my family.”

The communal culture was akin to what she knew back in Gering. When she returned to the States she sought to replicate the bonds she’d forged.  “I came back wanting that,” she said. Unable to find it in her first teaching practicums, she became disillusioned.

“I was ready to quit education and my advisor was like, ‘Nope, there’s this new school in a warehouse and Nancy Oberst is the principal and you’ll meet her and love her — give it a shot before you quit.’ So I went there and loved it and stayed there. Nancy and I just clicked and she hired me to teach kindergarten.”

Liberty opened in 2002 in a former bus warehouse at 20th and Leavenworth. In 2004 it moved into a newly constructed building at 2021 St. Mary’s Avenue. Oberst was someone Palomo aspired to be like.

“She’s so dynamic and such a good model,” said Palomo. “She has such a vision for how a school should be — it shouldn’t be an 8:30 to 4 o’clock building. Instead it should be a community space where it’s open all the time and families come for all kinds of different services, and that really is the center of the community.”

Oberst and many of Liberty’s original teachers have moved on. Palomo’s stayed. “We have a core group of parents who have been with us from the old building and they know I’m one of the few teachers who have been here all eight years,” she said. “They’ve seen what I do. They know Miss Palomo is the one who spent the night in the ER when Jose broke his arm and started a fund raiser when Emiliano’s house burned down. They know me and they trust me and they let me into their homes.

“They know I’m coming from a good place.”

She said one Liberty family’s “adopted” her and her fiance. The family’s four children will  be in the couple’s fall wedding.

Hutcherson said Liberty is “the hub” for its downtown neighborhood and educators like Palomo empower parents “to feel they’re not just visitors but participants.” Whether helping a family get their home’s utilities turned back on or translating for them, she said Palomo and other staff “step out of the walls of this building to get it done.” For two-plus years Palomo mentored a girl separated from her parents.

“It’s that whole reaching out and meeting our families where they’re at,” said Palomo.

Liberty’s holistic, family-centered, “do what’s best for the child” approach is just what she was looking for and now she can’t imagine being anywhere else.

“I really love it here. We’re not just a teacher in the classroom. We do so much to really bring our community into our school so our families can come to us for all these different activities and for help with different needs. It’s one of those things where we let them into our lives and they let us into theirs, and we’re both better for it.”

She’s proud to be “a strong Hispanic” for kids who may not know another college graduate that looks like them.

Palomo recently earned her master’s in educational administration from UNO. Sooner or later, she’ll be a principal. Hutcherson said when that day comes “it’ll be a great loss to Liberty but a great gain for the district.”

Hispanic Authors-Artists Part of Omaha Lit Fest Experience

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Hispanic Authors-Artists Part of Omaha Lit Fest Experience

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-pericp.com)

 

The September 10-11, 2010 (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest gathers authors and artists to investigate the theme Curiouser & Curiouser: The Book in Flux.

Some guests, like University of Nebraska-Lincoln Ph.D. candidate Sarah Chavez, are Hispanic, Others, like first-time festival panelist Peter Kuper of Manhattan, New York, are not, but explore Hispanic themes.

Nebraska native Belinda Acosta, the Latina author of two Quinceanera Club novels, was a panelist last year and the Austin, Texas resident would like to come back again.

Chavez, a Fresno, Calif. native poet, has completed a chapbook she’s expanding into a full-length volume. This will be her first Omaha Lit Fest. She read some of her original work at an August 26 preview. She looks forward to the fest, saying she’s “impressed” by the supportive literary community here and by the diversity and quality of writers presenting at area lit events.

In her poetry Chavez explores the working class character of Fresno. She also explores borders and boundaries of identity. Her father is a first generation Mexican-American migrant worker. As a girl she joined her father laboring in the fields. Her Irish-American mother comes from upper middle class roots.

Chavez said by phone, “I was always sort of aware of this transferring back and forth between cultures. My parents divorced fairly early on, so I was always going back and forth, crossing like city and cultural borders, learning you act like this in this environment but then you can act like this in this other environment.

“So I was always aware of this mobility and the tenuous nature of environment. I was also aware of being, like my sister and I joke, ‘half breeds.’ Because of that mix we’re able to pass in different areas. I go to minority programs and have cultural cachet as a Mexican there but then people don’t automatically assume I am of that heritage. I don’t quite fit, I don’t look like this but I don’t feel like this other group.”

She considers different cultural expectations attending Latinas or African-American women and white women. She examines what it means for women of color to move away from traditional domestic duties to inhabit professional and academic roles.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Political cartoonist and illustrator.Kuper anticipated a two-year siesta in Oaxaca, Mexico with his wife and daughter, but when a teachers’ strike there was violently put down by government forces, he went from casual tourist to engaged reporter. His visceral Diario de Oaxaca journal sketches and commentaries capture how nature and civilization, history and modernity, bounty and deprivation are intertwined there.

He prized playing the role of first-hand witness and participant. In a phone interview he said this active, intimate experience “made it feel we were inside of Mexico rather than standing on the edge regarding it from a slight distance.” He said when he first arrived he made up for his “lousy” Spanish by using his sketches to communicate with people, adding that his habit of walking the streets offered interactions that drew him deeper into local rituals and customs.

His work expresses the surreal-like quality of nature run riot amid a busy tourist trade, an oppressive regime, crushing poverty and citizen protests.

“It’s fascinating. I kept on feeling I was walking through a metaphor.”

Perhaps most striking to him is how people risk everything to oppose an unjust ruling class. He’s quite taken by the politicized street art there. He’s also impressed by how every day people make art an expressive part of their life, whether arranging flower and candle homages for Day of the Dead festivities or painting murals.

“There’s so much creating of art that goes on in daily life as a natural thing to do,” he said. “It really gives me a sense of art having purpose, enriching and playing a role.”

He said the whole experience shook him up artistically, putting him on a different track once he returned home.

“It challenged and opened me up to trying different approaches. I had to sort of reinvent myself with the new information.”

Acosta grew up in Lincoln. She was active in Omaha theater, helping found the Center Stage Theatre and touring a one-woman show on Midwestern Latinas, before attending the University of Texas at Austin to focus on writing.

A freelance journalist by trade, she’s a contributing writer for the Austin Chronicle and Texas Observer. Her books Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over chart family relationships within the backdrop of the quinceanera, which she finds ironic since she never had a quince herself. But she said she researched the coming-of-age celebration in preparation for her books.

She’s presently working on a new book set in Nebraska.

For event details, visit www.omahalitfest.com.

Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in Omaha Magazine

 

No end of metaphors describe a hot air balloon suspended in the sky. To some, it’s a giant, free-floating lollipop, to others a floating bouquet of flowers. Even Christmas ornaments come to mind.

The sight of an inflatable riding the air currents brings out the kid in everyone.  Occupying the basket of a balloon, whether to sightsee or celebrate a milestone, offers a bird’s-eye experience. Most passenger flights last about an hour. Young, old or in-between, it’s an unforgettable joy ride.

The intrepid aeronauts who pilot these contraptions insist that hot air balloons truly are THE way to fly with the greatest of ease. Nebraska Balloon Club members are devotees of a time-honored pastime with its own rituals and traditions.

Ballooning is a hobby, business and sport for Tom Peterson, Rich Jaworski and Steve Lacroix, three active balloonists, instructors and NBC officers. The club promotes the activity statewide. Peterson, its president, said the group numbers about 100 members, including 29 pilots. It organizes free balloon flights, tethered and non-tethered alike, for dozens of charity events each year.

The three men have their own commercial balloon companies whose flights for-hire cover any occasion. Jaworski also does competitive ballooning — attempting extreme duration flights. He owns several world records.

Balloonists are as varied as their balloons, which range from towering to tiny, but all feel the tug of the breeze-blown freedom soaring among the clouds presents.

“There is just so no other way to fly that makes you feel so intimately associated with the Earth,” said Peterson, who pilots Dreamtime. “It’s the closest thing to that dream of flying I had and many other people had as a child, where you lean forward into the wind, spread your arms wide and you lift-off effortlessly. To be able to fly at tree-top level and pick the leaves off the top of a cottonwood or to dip down and brush the tassels of the corn, to follow the contours of the hills and valleys…

“If we go off over the Elkhorn River there’s some spectacular bluffs that drop a couple hundred feet. We come right over the treetops and drop right down following that fall of the land and we set down on a sandbar in the middle of the river. Then, when we take off again, we just hang there like the cottonwood fluff in mid-air. There’s no other way you can fly that you could do that. It’s definitely my passion.”

He equates skimming the air in a balloon with gliding on water in a sailboat. In each case, he uses cues to gauge wind speed and direction: ripples on the water’s surface, smoke plumes, blowing leaves.

Rich Jaworski said his balloon’s name, Euphoria, is an apt description for the experience of flying in one.

“I think it is,” he said. “It’s a feeling of happiness and buoyancy. Each flight is a different adventure. Never knowing where you’re going to land is part of the fun. It’s the antithesis of the American tradition of going from point x to point y. We go from point x, but we don’t know where point y is going to be. We’re definitely not conformists. We want to do something different.”

 

 

Just don’t call them casual thrill-seekers or madcap adventurers. The activity is too unforgiving to tolerate show-offs.

“I would not characterize any of the pilots I know as daredevils,” said Peterson, “because you can’t be a good pilot and be a daredevil. A daredevil is someone who is always pushing the edge and to be a good pilot you need to understand what are the limitations of the balloon, what are your limitations as a pilot and what are the limitations of the information you have about the weather. Meteorology is an imperfect science — we know some things but we don’t know them perfectly. If you’re a daredevil and pushing the edge eventually the edge catches up to you.

“The pilots I know and that are members of the club respect that edge and stay a safe distance back from it by staying within the limits of their abilities and skills and the capabilities of the aircraft.”

For Jaworski and fellow aeronauts a successful flight is a safe one. At the end of a trip he said he feels “self-pride and a sense of accomplishment.” The engineer said his penchant for “figuring out how things work” turned him onto ballooning:  “The beauty of the balloon and the tranquility of its flight, coupled with the technical challenges and the meteorological phenomena one has to come to understand, it just connects a lot of dots for me. Also, the social aspects of working with crew and passengers, and giving back to charities, have been very satisfying and fulfilling.”

Whether launching aloft alone or in a group, balloonists comprise a fraternity dedicated to what Jaworski calls “sharing the joy.” Some gypsy across the country from rally to rally, others fly close to home or only go up for special events.

The Nebraska Balloon Club makes regular launches at Zorinsky Lake and plans a summer slate of rides at Mahoney State Park, John C. Fremont Days, Iowa’s wine country and many other locations and events.

Whatever the occasion, said Peterson, once hooked, you’re a balloonist for life. “They’re just so magnificent, the colors, the fact you’re rising on nothing more than just a bubble of hot air. It’s just magical.”

For a schedule of summer balloon rides, visit nebraskaballoonclub.org/.

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