New Volunteer: College Kid on the Block
(The following is the article I wrote for our bi-annual newsletter. It was distributed to 6,000 Vermonters and Vermont businesses. Thank you for reading. Feel free to comment, ask questions, or rant and/or rave.)
I became interested in Kids on the Block-Vermont (KOBVT) after an honorary board member, Rich Graham, told me of his affiliation with the group at a chance encounter in downtown Burlington. I met Rich at random, and after we conversed about the weather and the community, he offered me his business card. He said, “Your people should call my people and we’ll do lunch.” Rich, if you’re reading this- know that I’m still hungry.
When I got home I checked out KOBVT’s website and gave the office a call. I had some time on my hands and wanted to volunteer, so I scheduled an interview. I mentioned to Sarah, the office manager, I have non-profit experience and worked as a fundraiser, and I was more than happy to offer my services. She was eager to put me to work.
As a new volunteer I was warmly welcomed the minute I arrived at KOBVT in Burlington, even though I knew very little about “puppet theatre” or how these particular puppets educate children. It was my first day and the friendly puppet staff said the best way to acclimate myself and gain first-hand appreciation for Puppets in Education was to spend the entire day on the road with Kids on the Block-Vermont. I couldn’t pass up the experience.
A few days after my initial interview, I spent an eight-hour day at Ludlow Elementary School with Josiah (Master Puppeteer) and Ruben, a visually impaired man from the community, along with his guide dog. Ruben, an intelligent and gregarious middle-aged man and his equally hilarious puppet counterpart Renaldo, taught an attentive group of children that individuals who are blind can do most anything everyone else can do, only a little differently, and that “inclusion” makes everyone feel accepted and appreciated. Following the skit, Renaldo (Ruben) fielded questions from audience members.
One of the inquisitive third graders asked, “How do you drive a car?” Ruben admitted he didn’t drive, but that he has good friends and family who drive him to where he needs to go, and that there is public service transportation which will pick him up at his house and bring him back home after appointments. A little girl then wondered how he played hopscotch… but Ruben didn’t miss a beat, and simply said, “Very carefully.” At the conclusion of an amazing performance, when asked about his dog, Ruben delighted the crowd by demonstrating his mobility. With man’s best friend at his side, he walked effortlessly across the gymnasium floor directly to the exit, memorizing children and adults.
On the trip home Ruben didn’t stop educating. I wanted to know more about his companion and he informed me that the blind community prefers the term “service animal” over seeing-eye or guide dog. The emphasis is on “service,” because the canine doesn’t like to be called a dog. “It’s degrading,” Ruben quipped.
Kids on the Block-Vermont certainly opened my eyes to the world of visual impairment and “the magic of puppets” as a powerful medium to educate children and promote inclusion. I’m thankful to everyone involved who made this a truly memorable experience.
Nick Briggs is a senior English major at UVM, and is currently volunteering with Puppets in Education/Kids on the Block-Vermont. He is calling area businesses for sponsorships and donations to upcoming fundraising events and assisting with office administrative duties. He is interested in becoming a puppeteer in the not too distant future.