by Michael Gass
Michael is a participant in Life’s WORC’s Community Habilitation program. Thank you, Michael, for sharing your exciting story with us.
My Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Handler Dream
My name is Michael Gass, I am currently 19 years old, and I have autism. When I was four years old, my father’s office held a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade viewing party for the staff and their families, since the parade passed right by their office windows. When I got there, I was glued to the window, amazed by the giant character balloons, colorful floats, marching bands, and clowns passing by. At first, I had no idea what this spectacular event was, just that it took place on Thanksgiving. I soon found out that it was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it one day. Since then, I have looked forward to Thanksgiving and the parade every year, hoping that once I was old enough, I would be able to volunteer as a balloon handler.
After watching it live from the sidewalk almost every year since, fast-forward fifteen years, and I was finally able to experience what it was like to be in the parade, as I was a balloon handler in the 95th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (2021). When I would go to the balloon inflation events on the night before each parade, I was always told that I had to be an employee of Macy’s or be sponsored by an employee in order to participate. This made me feel sad and deflated (pun intended) because I was too young to work at Macy’s but still wanted to be in the parade. The parade makes me feel happy and I always look forward to seeing what new balloons and floats Macy’s unveils each year. My family, friends, and teachers all know how much I enjoy talking about the parade, and it was my goal to one day work for Macy’s so that I can participate in the parade. However, this changed when my older brother Brian made a connection at Macy’s earlier this year.
Brian ultimately connected with Will Coss, Vice President and Executive Producer of Macy’s Branded Entertainment, and shared my passion for the parade, as well as my dream to one day participate in the parade with him. I was shocked and amazed that he was more than happy to sponsor us for the parade and put us in touch with the rest of the parade team. To get ready for the big day, we attended balloon field training at Citi Field on October 3rd in order to get some practice handling some balloons and find out what it takes to be a good balloon handler. I was blown away and had a great time! I was able to meet Will in person and thank him for the amazing opportunity!
As we got closer to Parade day, we received our entry passes and costumes, and found out that we had been assigned to the SpongeBob SquarePants balloon, one of my all-time favorite balloon characters. I was overjoyed, and before I knew it, Thanksgiving was here. Brian and I arrived at our report location early and we had full access to all the balloons. While checking out all the balloons, I spotted Will and once again thanked him for making my dream come true! We then headed back to SpongeBob, our assigned balloon, and the parade kicked off! I was ecstatic as my dream had come true. I had such an amazing time, and I cannot wait to volunteer again next year. Remember, do not give up on your dreams because you never know when they might come true.