JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Santa Claus got an early start to visiting the children of Northeast Tennessee, but he left the sleigh at home and took to the skies in a new ride.

Children at Rise Up! in Johnson City changed “Santa” as a helicopter piloted by Alan Bracken from the Inside Track WOW Foundation circled overhead. Santa himself was in the chopper and brought Walmart gift cards to the children at Rise Up! and other after-school organizations Tuesday.

The children at Rise Up! were ecstatic and full of energy when they saw who was coming their way.

“These are kids that are part of organizations that come alongside of them, love on them, mentor them,” said Matt Overby, president and chief executive officer of Summit Leadership, the group responsible for the event.

Photo: WJHL

Summit Leadership helped arrange Santa’s visit and worked with other local organizations like the Inside Track WOW Foundation and donors in Northeast Tennessee to plan out the event.

“There’s no feeling like it,” said Michael Marion, executive director of Rise Up! “We created an experience, an opportunity for a kid that they’ve never had before. Or nor will they ever have again. It’s just amazing. So yeah, I look forward to the afterglow.”

Donors told News Channel 11 that the excitement in the children’s eyes was worth all the work.

“When they start yelling ‘We believe, we believe,’ it’s so cute,” said donor Gina Pinney.

Photo: WJHL

The children will receive their gift cards Wednesday. Marion told News Channel 11 that the children often use the cards to buy something for themselves as well as gifts for their families.

Santa’s helicopter also stopped at SteppenStone in Limestone prior to landing at Rise Up!