Doves used to help grieving families traumatized by gun violence

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Micheal Balcombe
Michael Balcombe, owner of Precious Wings, releases one of his ring necked doves at Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, Conn. Behind him are the graves of Sade Auriel Brantley and her sister, Madisyn Aniyah Mitchell, whose family released his doves recently during a memorial service. (Photo by Arnold Gold-New Haven Register)

By D. Shahid Abdul-Karim
@Shahid_Akarim on Twitter

Micheal Balcombe BirdNEW HAVEN, Conn. – Michael Balcombe said when he was in prison, he didn’t want family photos or letters to be sent to him. He wanted information on raising and training doves.

“I had people Google information about birds and mailing it to me,” said Balcombe, 31, founder of Precious Wings of New Haven, a ceremonial white dove release service.

“I wanted information so I could begin reading up on it, because I knew I had to do something with my life once I got out,” he said.

Balcombe recalled that when his grandfather died in 2006, ceremonial birds were released during the burial service.

“It always stuck with me and it was something I liked and it would be different for the city,” said Balcombe, who is originally from Stamford.

“I asked myself, how was I going to come back into society, find a job and make a positive difference in my community,” he said.

“As soon as my cell door closed on me, I started thinking about what I was going to do once I got from behind those bars. I decided to raise birds and that’s exactly what I did.”

Precious Wings of New Haven took flight as a way of helping grieving families cope with the loss of loved ones from tragedy.

“I’ve never seen so many homicides take place in this city, so I wanted to come up with another way to help families ease their suffering and pain,” said Balcombe, who also works at a local funeral home.

“It’s something about the birds that release some sort of feeling that families may be holding inside; it’s a relief for most of them,” he said.

Balcombe was released from prison into a halfway house in New Haven in Febuary 2013 and decided to remain in the city after serving his time. He started the business in May 2014.

Balcombe was convicted for the sale of a controlled substance and criminal mischief.

“People laughed at the idea of ceremonial doves and that has been my problem; I’ve always worried about what everyone else thought,” he said. “Now, I’m doing what I think and what I feel as one of the best ways for me to give back to my community.”

According to Balcombe, the birds symbolize more than just death and tragedy.

“The wings symbolize freedom and when you have the opportunity of freedom, you have to treat it so precious,” Balcombe said.

“You can’t be rough with such a precious gift,” he said.

The business has done more than 20 ceremonies since its inception in May, including weddings, birthdays, commencements, anniversaries and other special occasions.

Joanna Mitchell, who lost her daughters, Sade Auriel Brantley and Madisyn Aniyah Mitchell, in last year’s plane crash in East Haven, said she used Precious Wings for her daughters’ anniversary.

“I met Michael through Bereavement Care Network and I was looking to release doves for my daughters’ one-year anniversary. I was having a hard time finding someone reasonable,” said Mitchell, who’s daughters’ one-year anniversary was Aug. 9.

“Releasing of the doves represents angels for me and my family,” she said.

Mitchell said she chose to release five doves because it represented grace.

“It’s by God’s grace that I’m still here and it’s God’s grace that I get through every day and find peace,” she said.

“I would recommend Precious Wings to anyone.”

Nakia Dawson, founder of Bereavement Care Network said she uses Precious Wings for some her events and programs in the community.

“They were raised and trained in the community. The white doves symbolizes peace; we want peace over our community,” said Dawson.

“I believe the white doves are soft and calming, which allows the families to feel at peace after the doves are released into the sky,” she said.

Balcombe said it took five months of intense training of the birds.

“I left them locked up for two months. Its the only place they know and where it’s clean and where they can eat; I have a special call for them when it’s feeding time.” said Balcombe.

“In the summer, it’s air conditioned and in the winter, there is heat; it worked for me,” he said.

In addition to running Precious Wings of New Haven, Balcombe has been accepted to the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Home Services.

The funeral service business has been a life dream for Balcombe. He started the funeral academy Jan. 5.

“Mike has always wanted to be in the funeral service business, but he thought of something else that would impact the families to make their experience even more special,” said McClam Funeral Home Director Darrell McClam, 42, who has known Balcombe for years.

“He makes the service economical for people and he has ties to this community,” he said.

“People don’t have to go to New York, they have this service right here in New Haven.”

Darnell McClam, also the co-owner of McClam Funeral Home, said the birds add to the tapestry of the city.

“He was dedicated and never gave up on what he wanted to do; it took a lot of time for him to train the birds,” said McClam, who uses Precious Wings for some of their funeral services.

“It’s a whole experience with the birds, kids love it too,” he said. “Its just another piece of how New Haven is growing.”

Balcombe said networking is an important factor for other young men who may have a felony conviction.

“My advice would be, to be respectful, move on your ideas and don’t let others discourage you,” he said.

“If others don’t want to give you a job, you create one for yourself; my life is a testament of that.”

(For more information about Precious Wings of New Haven, contact 203-980-9219 or email to preciouswingsofnewhaven@gmail.com)

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