While many teenage boys play video games or do yard work to earn extra cash, Barton Christmas uses his time and talents making balloon animals for parties and other special events.
"This is how I make my money," he said. "Most boys my age will go out and mow lawns, and that's some thing I can't really do. I've got asthma and things like that. So doing this has been kind of my way to make money and meet new people and just have fun."
Barton's fascination with balloon animals started when he was in grade school. As a six year old he went with his father, Steve Christmas, to a clown class in their previous hometown, Newnan, GA.
Barton enjoyed making and giving away balloon animals so much that the following year he handed out 1,000 of them on a church mission trip to New York City.
Another mission trip and a move to Paducah later, Barton's love for making balloon animals persisted. But the turning point for Barton that changed balloon making from a hobby to a business happened when he entered the Murray State University and EntrePaducah's entrepreneur fair as a Heath Middle School fifth grader. Barton came home from that event with a scholarship in hand and the realization that making balloon animals was more than just a kind way to put smiles on people's faces.
"That's what really started the whole balloon business," Barton said. "It was just seeing that people liked the idea of balloon animals at a party. It just brought upon this whole business, and we've built everything out of that one fair."
After winning the competition, Barton knew he wanted to continue handing out animal balloons as a business. Now he uses his skills at children's birthday parties at community events, and he was even at the CFSB Play Center grand opening in February. But Barton said his favorite place to blow up balloons and twist them into animals is downtown Paducah.
"Some of our best instances where we've had customers just be really fun is when we do Live on Broadway in downtown Paducah every Saturday night throughout the summer," he said. "People are allowed to come down and sell different items as street vendors. They've got live music, things like that. …We get to see our old friends down there and meet new people and it's just a really fun experience."
Barton said he hopes to always make animal balloons, but he doesn't plan to do just that with his future. For now, it's a way for him to make other people happy while earning a little bit of cash. In the future he hopes to become an engineer or an educator. His family jokes with him now that he has already started on the path of the former option by being a balloon engineer.
Barton plans to continue making animal balloons as he enters the new McCracken County High School in the fall.