If you’ve spent any time at the Cherry Creek or Aurora malls this Christmas season, you’ll have probably run across Sam Henderson or Nadia Solsbery frantically twisting balloons. Balloon sculpting is their principal means of support, and they’re doing quite well at it. It’s not only to keeping a roof over their heads, it’s putting them through school. Sam’s finishing up his certification as a personal trainer. Nadia will study art and business at Metro next semester.
Sam picked up the craft while doing volunteer work for an organization called Take Action Foundation in Cuernavaca, Mexico. “We were working at an orphanage and juvenile detention center putting on a puppet show to teach the kids morals and values,” he says. “After the show we’d twist balloons and hand them out.”
As for Nadia, she’d been doing it since she was a kid of nine or ten. “My parents used to do balloons at parties and volunteer charitable events,” she says. “I’d go with them to help out. I discovered I had a knack for it. It’s artistic and creative. It makes people smile. And it puts me in touch with kids.”
The two met through Take Action Foundation and quickly discovered they had much in common. As children of non-denominational Christian missionaries, both had lived abroad for much of their childhoods. (Nadia was born in India, Sam in Peru). Both are fluent in Spanish. Each comes from a gi-mungous family (Sam has seven brothers and sisters, Nadia has ten). And then, of course, there’s the balloon thing.
Turning it into a business was Nadia’s idea. She was twisting balloons to raise money for her volunteer work when it dawned on her one day that she could probably make a living at it. Two years ago, she and Sam started Amazing Balloon Creations. “We sell it as a free attraction for restaurants like Sabarro’s Pizza and IHOP,” Nadia says. “Pretty much anywhere that’s family oriented.”
In restaurants they twist for tips. In other venues – carnivals, street fairs, daycare centers and the like – they charge anywhere from $2.00 to $5.00 depending on the intricacy of the piece. They have a basic repertoire of around thirty sculptures – Smurf, Mermaid, Elmo, Spider Man – but they’ve been doing it for so long they can invent stuff on the spot. “Our customers like to get a rise out of us by asking for the impossible,” Nadia says. “One time at a bachelorette party we put together a giant wedding cake. Plus hats with babies on them.”
They’ve had maybe twenty requests for balloon likenesses of Tim Tebow this season. And just about everybody they meet wants an orange and blue candy cane.
On average, the couple works twenty-five hours a week in restaurants, and then puts in an additional eight-to-ten hours on weekends at birthday parties, grand openings, and fund raisers. Christmas is, of course, sheer lunacy. “You have to be fast,” Nadia says. “One day I did 200 balloons. I had a line of 40 or 50 kids. It was nonstop.”
“Your fingers get really sore,” Sam adds. “I’ve got tennis elbow.”
The couple especially likes working with kids. “We’re not just some grumpy old guy in a clown suit,” Nadia says. “We’re young and presentable, and we’re kid friendly. That’s our edge. We remember their names, and if somebody comes up crying ‘cause his balloon popped, we’ll make him a new one.”
“I can’t imagine having a 9-5 job,” Sam says. “This is so much better. I can work my own hours. It gives me flexibility and cash.”
“I like that I can interact and talk with all different kinds of people,” says Nadia. “And it’s portable. I literally can go anywhere and make a living at it. Plus, it’s not just some boring, dead end job. I look forward to going to work every day. I can’t imagine how my life would be without it.”
For more info:
Amazing Balloon Creations: 720-998-5908 / 720-998-6246
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