Adopt-a-Grandparent program brings balloon buddies to nursing homes


Balloon buddies were recently distributed to residents at Brookdale in Des Plaines. Courtesy of Michelle Tibble

Sadie Romero, Editor-in-Chief

Judy Metrovich was on the phone crying, staring out the window from a 6-by-10-foot space when she learned she couldn’t see her family after they drove eight hours from Chicago to Pittsburgh just for her.

Metrovich, a resident at a nursing home in Pittsburgh, has been in and out of COVID-19 lockdown at her facility for almost a whole year now.

“I feel trapped in my room,” Metrovich said. “Especially in the winter when we can’t go outside. I read. I color. Sometimes, if you sign up, they bring a big screen around so you can FaceTime your family. But it is not the same. It is really hard for me.”

Michelle Tibble of Mount Prospect, Metrovich’s niece, took a road trip with her family this past July to visit Metrovich. When they weren’t able to see her, Tibble, owner and creator of Awesome Balloon Creations/Chicago’s Balloon Twister, came up with a new idea to put a smile back on Metrovich’s face.

Tibble launched the national Adopt-A-Grandparent campaign.

The idea for the campaign derived from a Facebook post Tibble made that same day. She asked a business page of balloon artists all across the United States to combine what they are good at doing with helping nursing home residents feel less alone.

Once they came up with a plan, it was heavily marketed by some of the participants and quickly became a national effort.

The balloon buddies are human-sized figures made from multiple balloons to represent arms, legs and a yellow smiley face balloon at the top.

Four staff members from The Selfhelp Home in Chicago deliver smiley face balloon people to brighten the spirits of residents who have been unable to receive outside visitors for the last year of the pandemic. – Courtesy of Sadie Romero

By January 2021, Tibble’s local wholesaler was completely sold out of the smiley face balloons as Adopt-A-Grandparent gained more traction. At one point, she even had to place an order as large as 500 of the balloons at once to ensure she had enough to fulfill her deliveries for weeks at a time.

At first, Tibble had trouble getting approval from local nursing homes. However, it took just one facility in early January to get on board for Awesome Balloon Creations to be in steady standing.

ManorCare Health Services in Elk Grove Village was Tibble’s first delivery. While each home distributes the balloons differently, ManorCare hosted a party for its residents on the day of the delivery. Each person was called up separately, getting cheered on by their fellow residents as they walked down the hall to receive their balloon buddy and a cupcake. The staff saw this as a small way to let the residents know they are appreciated.

The entertainment company delivered to Sunrise of Schaumburg, a senior living community, this past month.

“Not only were our residents excited for the picture with the buddies, but when they found out they got to take a balloon buddy home, ‘Wow, really?’ is all I heard all day,” said Sunrise staffer Lisset Rosalas. “A few of the buddies even got names.”

Tibble only delivers to a nursing home if there are enough balloon buddies for everyone. If not, she sends out a request for more sponsors until she has the means to do so. Sometimes, the receiving facility will also seek donations by sending an email to the residents’ families.

“Trying to turn something fun and magical into a delivery is what we have been honing in on this past year. This Adopt-A-Grandparent campaign was one of those things,” Tibble said. “The whole point of entertainment is to make people smile. Who needs a fun smile more than a bunch of people literally stuck in a nursing home?”

To help cheer up nursing home residents during the pandemic, Michelle Tibble, owner and creator of Awesome Balloon Creations/Chicago’s Balloon Twister, launched the national Adopt-A-Grandparent campaign, which brings balloon buddies to the seniors. – Courtesy of Michelle Tibble

The Adopt-A-Grandparent chapter of Chicago Balloon Twister has been operating under sponsorships and donations. With this, Tibble tries to honor requests from sponsors or donors if there is a particular home they would like the balloons delivered to. Yet, as she tries to ensure that the facilities will never pay out of pocket, getting sponsors has been the hardest part of her efforts.

In the coming weeks, Tibble and her assistant will enter a new round of publicity, where they intend to reach out to local community members, companies and Facebook users to make donations. In efforts to expand that number, Tibble donates 10 balloon buddies for every 100 sold.

While they accept any and all donations, it is $12 to sponsor a buddy, which pays for supplies, labor and delivery. Tibble and her assistant, Mike Mauthe, spend about 15 minutes, collectively, to make one buddy. They invest in good, quality balloons to ensure a lasting experience for the residents, which is approximately one month.

Tibble said one of the most vital things to consider is that the older generation is used to receiving physical things — mail, packages, having physical visitors. To use social media and technology as a form of communication is just not as meaningful for them.

“This is a great time for giving, sharing, and spreading love. Senior citizens are the people that got us here,” Tibble said, “and it is so sad to know that they are just sitting in what is basically a box while it is very easy for them to get sad. Doing something small like giving them a balloon goes a long way and makes them feel like they are loved and not forgotten. Lift them up. Let them feel good about themselves. It is the best $12 you can spend to pay it forward.”

Tibble is planning a road trip and surprise balloon delivery to her aunt’s facility in Pittsburgh next month, transporting 110 smiley face balloon buddies herself.

To learn more about the campaign and sponsorships, visit

To make a donation, visit

Editor’s Note: This article, written by Courier Editor-in-Chief Sadie Romero, originally appeared in the Daily Herald on Feb. 25, 2021.