Keeping the balloons in the air

Sherri Gardner HowellArts 865, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk, West Knox

As the days and weeks of social distancing drag on, we are all becoming keenly aware that there’s nothing “social” about it. Even the most positive among us are having a hard time continually finding that silver lining.

Perhaps we are identifying more these days with Charlie Brown than the positive, blanket-hugging Linus. Are Charlie Brown’s words beginning to ring true? “I’ve developed a new philosophy: I only dread one day at a time.”

Dianna Glandon, owner of Above the Rest Balloon and Event Designs, has a business built primarily on happy times. Her business is event and party based, and she can be counted on to bring the fun, the color and the festive atmosphere with her when she arrives with her balloon designs.

She arrived with just that in her truck prior to an event on March 12. As she searched for the correct door to get her creations inside the event center, she was met by the manager. “He told me, ‘They just canceled the event.’”

That popped balloon was followed by an explosion of cancellations. “In a matter of 48 hours, every event I had scheduled for March and April – a very busy season for us – was gone,” says Dianna. “It was very scary. I ended up just going to Lakeshore Park and walking. Thinking, and walking.”

A scheduled vacation out-of-town went on as planned the next week. “My husband and I were in a secluded spot, and we had lots of time to sit and think. I began to network online with others in the business, trying to figure out what the heck we could do.”

Above the Rest is a 14-year-old self-created business for Dianna. It took her years to get the business rolling to where it was in March, a “labor of love,” she says, “and a slow process.”

Now, like so many small businesses and sole proprietorships, the bottom has fallen out of the revenue stream. “Not only for events, but we do a lot of weddings and graduations. The timing could not have been worse for us.”

A neighborhood sculpture

Back at home, Dianna also met the gloom and uncertainty surrounding the normally bustling neighborhoods near her house on Ebenezer Road and Blue Grass. “I had to lay-off all my employees but one. I just kept searching and networking, looking for some good news. Then one of my friends in Atlanta did a balloon sculpture in her neighborhood to keep spirits up. She said the response was great.

“We started going through our inventory to see what we had, looking for positive messaging. My granddaughter joined us, and we did a balloon sculpture in our front yard that said ‘Faith.’ It got so many positive comments that we decided to spread the joy.”

Dianna Glandon put this message in her front yard.

So they did. Dianna, her one employee and granddaughter made sculptures for the entrances of each subdivision along Ebenezer Road. The messages read pray, hope, faith, trust and joy.

“The weather wasn’t very cooperative that week, so we ended up doing it again the next week.”

She began to look for another message to put in her yard. “We went through all the letters and found we had all the letters to do Rise Up. It seemed the perfect message for us.

The appreciation expressed through social media and notes from those who know the name behind the business has been incredible, says Dianna. “People seemed to really appreciate having a positive message out there for all to see.”

Elliott Decker celebrated his second birthday at home with family. Neighbors wished him a Happy Birthday from the street, and one had Above the Rest deliver a yard sculpture to add to the festivities.

As for the business, creativity didn’t abandon her. “The balloons for these sculptures are air-filled, so we designed do-it-yourself kits for mailboxes and porches. We mail them to you with instructions and a straw to blow up the balloons. Plus there is a link to a video that shows you how to do it. It’s a great project for families to do together.”

They are also still taking orders for yard or neighborhood sculptures that they deliver and set up in the yard or subdivision entrance. “We weren’t ready for this shift and a whole lot of people came together to get this done,” says Dianna. “We want our events and weddings back when things change because they are such a joy for us to do. But this has been so fulfilling, too, even as we watch people drive by or wave to us from their houses as we put sculptures in the yard.”

Dianna hopes both the yard sculptures and DIY kits will help keep the lights on for the business until the world shifts back. In addition, she is donating 15 percent of the DIY kits proceeds to the Emerald Youth Foundation.

The DIY kits are called Spirit Lifters. Above the Rest is certainly doing that.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.


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