Bay Reflection

Vol. 8, No. 2
January 13-19, 2000
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Healing Hearts with Kids on the Block
by Joan Bennett Clancy

“How do you get into something like this?”

It’s not a query about the beekeeper mask that I will don as part of my Kids on the Block performing outfit.

Why? is the real question.

Part of the answer is my nursing background. Another part is sliced off my love of ham, as in performing.

I slip into the mask and black costume to become “a shadow” for the performance.

Kids on the Block takes its style from Bun Raku, a form of Asian puppetry.

I’ve been fascinated with puppetry for many years. While working in Chicago a long time ago, I was enchanted by the Koengsholm Puppet Opera. Then Sheri and Lambchop brought me charming communication. To that love, I added the good and bad parenting I saw during 30 years of professional nursing. Working in Maryland in community health and in the District of Columbia in acute care nursing let me see the outcomes of many home lives. Intervention is difficult, but the Mental Health Association of Maryland is putting out the effort. Their ad with the puppets got my attention.

Give it a try, I thought. They might say no — but the reply was yes.

The fun was about to begin.

What a shock I had when the “simple” scripts were not easy to memorize. This will teach you to use your brain more often, I thought.

As other shadows and I learned the nuances of our puppet’s personality and role, the dialogue became spontaneous and emotional. We could believably recreate the drama. We became the puppets and could engage our audience of children.

The children disregard us and focus on the puppets.

The puppets are their size. Like the children, the puppets wear shoes and sometimes glasses and watches. The puppets have their hues of skin tone, burn scars and scars of the head and heart. Some use wheelchairs, some are children of divorces, some are raised by old grandparents.

My skeptical mind was sure the puppet with the burns would look phony. I have debrided and bundled many children in the various stages of burns. The puppet has marvelous replication.

That is what Kids on the Block is all about.

It’s a method of intervention to help create ways of coping with life. It’s to help teach ways to communicate and care. It’s to show there are others who can help.

You are one of those others to somebody else. We are all in this together.

If I hear, “What’s the problem?” I start running lines in my head. I’m Shaun, an African American teenager, and Brenda, a pre-teen Caucasian friend of Shaun’s sister. With a little more time, I will be other characters.

There are 45 Kids on the Block personalities, all with hand-made bodies and researched scripts.
I hear on the radio about another problem, another school shooting. We must get deeply invested in mental health early. We must stick with the effort throughout life.

“How do you get into this?”

In Anne Arundel County, call Ginger Vanderpool at 301/261-5649. To learn more about the international program, call 410/235-1178.

Joan Bennett Clancy last wrote about her experiences as a volunteer post-operative nurse for Operation Smile, assisting in facial reconstructive surgery in China. She reflects from Fairhaven.

Editor’s note: To learn more right now, turn to Not Just for Kids.

Copyright 2000
New Bay Times Weekly