by Jessica Carreras
The St. Joseph YWCA Out and Affirmation Center has come a long way. Last summer, the center was receiving threats of violence in regard to its participation in the Blossomtime Festival Parade. This year, they swept awards in three different competitions, including Blossomtime’s Sweepstakes Award, Chicago Pride’s Best All Around Float Award and the National Championship Award at the College Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival Parade in South Bend, Ind.
The planning team, which included many of last year’s float builders and new volunteers totally 75 people, couldn’t be happier. “After winning two other parades, I think it proves we have a lot of creative and talented people,” said volunteer Mary Balfoort. “We made a fabulous float. It was just a work of art.”
And fabulous it was. The Blossomtime Parade theme this summer was Cruising the World, and the Out and Affirmations Center went with a Hawaiian theme. Their float, which took 75 people over 1,000 hours and several months of planning, building and preparing, was a tropical paradise. Smoke rose from a hand-crafted volcano behind a big, white cruise ship, while waves of sparkly-blue created a fluttering ocean below. Dancers shimmied holding battery-operated tiki torches, while hand-made tiki statues from a local wood artist dotted the float. To top it all off, they had a dancing parrot.
Float designer Cullen Kemp, who worked on the project with his partner Brad Gorman, was thrilled about this year’s outcome. “It was almost like a 180,” he said of the change in attitude from the St. Joseph and Benton Harbor area from 2007 to this year. “It seemed like the community came 10 years in one year.”
The float took Blossomtime’s grand prize by a landslide – but the Chicago Gay Pride Parade was not such a walk in the park. “The whole trip down there, pulling a 40-foot float, was really hard,” Kemp said. “Then, the day was beautiful, and then it started pouring rain.”
The group’s reaction to the mid-parade downpour may have been what earned them the grand prize: they kept right on dancing. “I think it’s a large part of (why we won), because when they judged the floats, they had judges throughout the crowd,” Kemp explained. “Even though it was pouring rain, we acted like it was an 80-degree day and kept dancing. So when our float passed the, we were dancing and smiling…the energy was amazing.”
Plus, the group gayed-up their float for the parade, adding rainbow streamers to the ship, according to Float Project Leader Brad Gorman.
Now, the group is gearing up for next year’s Blossomtime Parade – and the float theme couldn’t possibly be more appropriate: Broadway. “We’re really excited about next year,” Gorman said, divulging that they’re thinking of a “Phantom of the Opera” theme.
Balfoort, however, has her heart set on “The Producers,” where judges should have no problem when they “keep it witty, keep it pretty, keep it gay.”