Every day during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Sandoval County Commissioner Dave Heil was on his way to the park before some may have even been going to bed. 

“For gate captain, you have to be there at 2:30,” Heil said. “Fortunately, I have this small RV that I drive out to the park. Sometimes I’m a little early, so I’ll take a little nap before my 2:30 shift. Then I do the shift, and when I come out of the shift, I take a nap before I drive home.

“I prefer early mornings to be at the event. I’m a morning person anyhow, and usually any day or any night, I’m probably up at at 1 or 2 o’clock and thinking about something that I need to get done and spin an hour doing it and then going back to bed,” he added

Heil does work taking tickets for the fiesta through the Kiwanis Club of Rio Rancho, which volunteers to assist the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, which organizes the volunteer ticket-takers.

He has been working the fiesta for some time, too. “I have been doing the Balloon Fiesta since before it was at the current location that used to be on the south side of Alameda,” he said. “The Kiwanis Clubs have been responsible for either parking or ticket taking or whatever for all those years, so I guess it’s probably somewhere around 30 (years).

“We used to do parking only, and then we finally migrated to taking just the tickets at the various gates and somebody else does the parking,” Heil added.

He said other members of the Rio Rancho club volunteer with him, as do various organizations within the community, such as Key Clubs in Rio Rancho, which uses the volunteer opportunity as a fundraiser. “They get paid by the number of tickets scanned” based on a rate formula for how many people the serve at the fiesta, he said, “and then from that they divide up those funds to various nonprofits or organizations for their efforts. Individuals aren’t getting paid personally. It’s their organizations that are getting money … for whatever projects they’re working on.”

The Kiwanis Club uses all the money they raise from all their efforts, including Balloon Fiesta, for programs that benefit the youth in the community. In addition to helping the Key Clubs with fundraising volunteer opportunities, the Rio Rancho club contributes to community youth in various ways, such as buying back-to-school clothes for kids in need each July and contributing money to Shining Stars Preschool each year to contribute to Christmas list needs, Heil said.

The club has also been involved in the Park and Ride program. “Some years back, (Albuquerque) Kiwanis Club asked us to do the Park and Ride service, but they decided at a certain point that they didn’t want to do them, so what I did is I coordinated with the Knights of Columbus group here in Rio Rancho to service the Park and Ride sites, so there’s a Knights of Columbus group that handles each one … and they’re, of course, using that to raise money their programs,” he said.

As the fiesta came to a close, he noted that volunteering every day can be tiring. “Doing the Balloon Fiesta for nine days, it takes a toll on you, being especially tired by the end of the week,” Heil said. “”There’s no way you can make up your sleep in somewhat normal sleep patterns. You just have to do it by taking naps throughout the day. It usually takes me a few days after the event to kind of catch up on sleep and not being tired.”

He finds the mass ascensions and the creativity of the balloons to be a big draw to the event for visitors.

“This morning, I’m  kind of sitting there watching this family coming in. There’s this little girl with a family, and her face was just lighting up when she was looking at all those balloons and the different shapes,” he said Thursday afternoon. “An you see that in a lot of people, not just kids but adults — the amazement that they have at what they’re watching, especially when you get people that are here from other countries and just, in a sense, overwhelmed by the event.”