Cathy Robson and Matthew Jacques demonstrate how to manipulate the puppets in the Kids on the Block program. Mid Island Abilities and Independent Living Society is seeking volunteer puppeteers for the educational program.

Puppets can connect with kids

NANAIMO – A program that uses puppets to educate children about disability awareness is looking for volunteers.

A program that uses puppets to educate children about disability awareness and other important social concerns is looking for volunteer puppeteers.

The Mid Island Abilities and Independent Living Society is bringing the Kids on the Block puppet program to Nanaimo with the support of the Rotary Club of Nanaimo Daybreak and the federal government.

The educational program, which began in 1977 in the United States, uses large and colourful puppets in short skits that address disability awareness and other social issues.

Cathy Robson, the society’s program coordinator, said the purpose of the program is to remove the stigma from talking to real people with disabilities.

“Puppets have been around forever and kids relate to them,” she said, adding that students are encouraged to talk to the puppets and ask them questions that they may be too shy to ask a real person and the puppeteers stay in character before and after the skits to allow for this.

Each puppet has a distinct personality and life story and, like real children, some have mental, physical or emotional disabilities. Others have been affected by aging grandparents, divorce, abuse or death.

The society is targeting children in Grades 2-5.

“We’re trying to really focus on teaching kids at a younger age that people are people and their disabilities are second,” said Robson. “The differences between kids shouldn’t be disabilities.”

But to get the program out in the community, the society needs volunteer puppeteers.

Matthew Jacques, Kids on the Block coordinator, said at each school or event, volunteers participate in two seven-minute skits and a question-and-answer period.

The scripts are basic and easy to memorize and puppeteers can have a copy on hand, he said.

Because the focus is on the puppet and not the puppeteer, who is dressed in black behind the puppet, the gig is a good fit for people shy about performing, Jacques added.

“The hardest part is holding up your arm for seven minutes,” he said.

Jacques said before going out to schools, volunteers would also participate in training workshops and look at some material on their own so that they can answer questions about their puppet.

To learn more about becoming a volunteer with the Kids on the Block program, please call 250-756-9455 or e-mail healthycommunity@gmail.com.

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