Meet the moppets that bring kids a memorable message about disabilities. The Kids on the Block program, a project of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Kansas City, uses puppets to educate kids about disabilities, focusing on eight different conditions from cerebral palsy to vision and hearing issues.
The program, with 40 years behind it, just recently inducted its two newest puppeteers who, in an interesting turn of events, are themselves kids.
The two boys, Jack Reeves and Jack Litwin, are both in 7th grade and are the youngest puppeteers to become part of the group. As they stand in the shadows and perform their engaging characters, Melody and her wheelchair-bound friend Mark Riley, Reeves enjoys watching the audience.
“It’s really cool how you can kind of see, like, how the kids react to what you are doing,” he says.
He goes on to discuss their goal. “They’re learning what it’s like to have a disability. It kind of helped them learn that everyone’s the same even though they might look different on the outside.”
Litwin chimes in, too. “We’re trying to make them aware,” he says. “Disability doesn’t mean you can’t do something. It just means you do something in a different way.”
Litwin is the one who discovered the Kids on the Block program while searching for a service project as part of his Bar Mitzvah, confirming his responsibility to the world as a young adult. He also wanted, if possible, to honor his good friend Sam, who has cerebral palsy. This is what got Reeves involved, as he is Sam’s twin.
After watching a performance at the Prairie Star school they attend, Sam said of the kids watching, “Because they are puppets and stuff, I think it became a lot more realistic to them. And I think they understood it better.”
Susan Gates, the woman who trained the two Jacks, is the director of the Kids on the Block program. She is very proud of how well they’ve adapted to their role as puppeteers, and of how quickly they have done their homework, learned scripts, and researched the roles. “They were good,” she says. “They had done their homework, and they took it very seriously. They didn’t miss a practice.” She rates their performance as “A+, A+, A+!”
Prairie Star teacher Erika Haas is also proud of the boys and pleased with the effect of the performance, which also includes a Q & A and hands-on activities such as simulating what it might be like to have a disability such as cerebral palsy.
“My class, they were so engaged,” she says. “These weren’t adults putting on a performance. These were their peers performing. I think they can learn so much from their peers. And I think that spoke volumes that they can do it, too. They can go out and they can make a difference and they can educate others, no matter what your age is.”
Have a look at a news story about the two Jacks, their puppeteering skills, and their impact on kids. What do you think of these precocious puppeteers?