Ben Hillyer | The NAtchez Democrat—McLaurin Elementary School students line the playground fence Friday morning to get a look at Charles Venable’s balloon.
Ben Hillyer | The NAtchez Democrat—McLaurin Elementary School students line the playground fence Friday morning to get a look at Charles Venable’s balloon.

Natchez native says thanks with balloon

Published 12:11am Saturday, October 19, 2013

NATCHEZ — Gratitude comes in many forms. A written note, a plate of cookies and even a warm hug are a few examples. For Jaime Chaffin, gratitude came in the form of a hot air balloon.

And it was all because of a  simple math lesson that turned into an amazing life lesson for the Natchez native.

Chaffin may be walking 60 miles in three days this November for breast cancer research, but she is taking a little piece of every student at McLaurin Elementary School with her.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat—Charles Venable, in basket, and his balloon are guided  across the McLaurin Elementary playground by John Ward Elliot, Wesley O’Mary, Jaime Chaffin, Trish Lambert and Allison Gilliard.
Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat—Charles Venable, in basket, and his balloon are guided across the McLaurin Elementary playground by John Ward Elliot, Wesley O’Mary, Jaime Chaffin, Trish Lambert and Allison Gilliard.

The small pieces are in the form of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, spare change that students brought with them during the last three weeks leading up to balloon race.

“I thought it would be a fun thing for the kids — a simple math lesson,” Chaffin said.

The 1993 Natchez High School graduate now lives in Hattiesburg, but she still has relatives in Natchez, including nieces and nephews that attend McLaurin. That is why she decided to do the spare-change fundraiser at the school.

What Chaffin had heard but didn’t realize was that spare change adds up.

“It grew into something I never, ever could have imagined,” Chaffin said. “I was floored when I started putting the numbers into my spreadsheet.”

To register for the 3-day walk, participants must promise to raise at least $2,300 for the cause.

What started out as a way to raise a couple of hundred dollars toward the overall goal turned into so much more, Chaffin said.

The first week, the 800 students of McLaurin donated $700 to Chaffin’s cause. By the end of the three weeks, they raised more than $2,000.

As a way to thank the students, Chaffin arranged a surprise. Chaffin and her family, who have been crewing the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race for years, told Missouri pilot, Charles Venable of McLaurin’s achievements and convinced him to bring is multi-colored balloon to the school.

Friday morning Venable, Chaffin and some of the crew inflated the balloon to the oohs and aahs of the school’s preschool, kindergarten and first grade students.

As the balloon bobbed up and down for nearly 30 minutes, so did the students jumping up and down with hands waving.

Watching the children enjoy the show, Chaffin said the experience has far exceeded her expectation.

“It is amazing, isn’t it?” Chaffin said.