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Balloon trip start of big day for girls, 10
Outing arranged by local nonprofit
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Katelyn Duvall, left, and Mary Rafferty started Saturday with a hot air balloon ride, part of a full day of activities arranged by a Forsyth County nonprofit organization. - photo by Jennifer Sami

Katelyn Duvall is not typically a morning person, but she was a ray of sunshine early Saturday.

“She’s been smiling since 4:30 a.m.,” said her mother, Natasha. “To see her smile like this, I’m just so happy for her right now.”

Duvall, who suffers from chronic gastrointestinal issues, spent the day on a high-flying adventure, beginning with a hot air balloon ride in Forsyth County and ending with dinner and getting to meet the cast of “Mary Poppins” at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

The escape was arranged through Pure Imagination, a nonprofit organization founded by Forsyth residents Layla and Mark Gunn, owners of four Atlanta area Melting Pot restaurants.

The organization encourages children to get involved in fundraising for other kids who are patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which has an office in Forsyth.

In this case, it was Mary Rafferty who decided to support Pure Imagination after her sister, Julia, raised money a few years ago for a Children’s patient to swim with the whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium.

Rafferty is close to her $200 fundraising goal after selling doughnuts and coffee at a Lilburn Easter egg hunt.

She and Duvall, both 10 and from Stone Mountain, bonded instantly Saturday when they first met at the Ingles parking lot in south Forsyth.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” Duvall said. “Everybody’s not that nice. When I heard of her, I was instantly her best friend because nobody really does a fundraiser for a person and it’s just really touching and meaningful ... she’s just awesome.”

Duvall, who’s been in and out of the hospital for the past seven years, continues to recover from multiple surgeries and recent back-to-back hospitalizations, which Natasha Duvall said was a turning point for her daughter.

“I prayed for something to lift Katelyn’s spirits for a while because this last hospitalization ... it just took her spirits down. It took something out of her and it’s great to see her bounce back,” she said. “It nearly brought tears to my eyes because I couldn’t believe all the things they had planned for Katelyn.”

Both girls got to take a balloon ride south to Milton before returning back to Forsyth for a “champagne” celebration.

They were then whisked south to the Melting Pot in Midtown Atlanta, where they met characters from “Mary Poppins” and took a horse-drawn carriage around the city before watching the musical and taking a backstage tour.