Story by Emily Robertson
South Central Kentucky Kids on the Block uses fun puppetry to educate and inform children on many topics that can be difficult to talk about in other settings. Kids on the Block performances address a variety of sensitive situations including physical challenges, medical conditions, social issues and safety concerns.
Originally starting in 1977, Kids on the Block was brought to South Central Kentucky by Jamie Gaddie Higgins in 1985 after she and her daughter experienced a performance at a Spina Bifida Association Christmas party that taught about acceptance of differences in others. Once back in Bowling Green, Jamie recruited her friends to become puppeteers and she, along with Alice Kummer, co-founded South Central Kentucky Kids on the Block. Sadly, Jamie passed away after a hard fought cancer battle, but her legacy and memory are still honored through the organization each year. Alice Kummer is still involved with the organization as an advocate and volunteer.
Why do you think the use of puppets help connect with and teach children?
Each puppet was created with so much thought and care, from their personality, to their background, to even the voice of the puppet. The puppets reflect a child’s hopes, fears, likes and dislikes. To the children, the puppets truly come alive.
During the question and answer session at the end of each program it becomes evident that the children think they are talking to a peer. They ask a variety of questions. Some questions are simple and innocent, such as “Why you don’t you blink?” Some questions, though, are serious, such as “Is it child abuse if someone pulled me across the floor by my hair last night?” Our puppeteers always inform the school counselors about any questions that raised red flags so that the counselor can address the concern with the child.
Kids on the Block is innovative in the way it teaches by helping children learn how to understand and communicate about sensitive, personal and social matters.
Where does Kids on the Block perform? How can groups request a performance?
Kids on the Block performs mainly in South Central Kentucky but the organization will travel the state when there is funding designated for a particular county. For many years Warren County was the only county with unlimited programs. Now, thanks to various events throughout the year that raise funds, Warren, Barren, and Simpson counties all have access to free and unlimited programs.
Amanda Guerra, our Director of Programming, schedules performances. Amanda can be reached by calling (270)842-2259 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. She also is the lead puppeteer and performs in all 19 program topics that are available.
How many children do Kids on the Block impact annually?
In 2016, we presented programs to 23,832 children in 17 Kentucky counties. We also present to adults in nursing homes and adult daycare centers. Children are our main focus, but we feel very strongly that our topics are for all ages. People experience abuse and bullying as adults as well, so the messages are for everyone.
Tell us about your volunteers. Who is an ideal volunteer for Kids on the Block?
An ideal volunteer is someone who is passionate about improving the lives of children. Often we hear volunteers say that they had no idea that we stayed as busy as we do.
We have volunteers of all ages come into the office. We need help daily in our office with administrative and fundraising tasks. We also need volunteers for our fundraisers and we can work with any schedule. We will even come in at night or on the weekends to work alongside a volunteer.
What events do you have each year for Kids on the Block?
We have kids runs in different counties throughout the area. For Warren County, we host Scotty’s Pound the Pavement. In Simpson County, children participate in the Citizens First Shamrock Sprint. Workout Anytime presents Dash for Sheldon supporting Barren and Hart counties. We also have a golf scramble each year, “Gerald Printing Presents Jamie’s Shot,” which honors our co-founder Jamie Gaddie Higgins, as well as a garden tour, and a paddling event. We also started an Inaugural Summer Camp focused on bullying prevention after receiving a grant through Youth Service America.
Do you receive funding from anywhere else?
We receive grants every year that help sustain our programs. We also have an annual adoption of programs campaign. Individuals and businesses support keeping our programs free and unlimited within Warren County.
Can you tell us a bit about your new location?
A longtime supporter of Kids on the Block approached our Executive Director about purchasing the building. Our mission is to provide affordable rent to fellow nonprofits so that the organizations may be able to serve more people. We have an excellent environment to work and grow, with common areas like a lobby, kitchen, and conference room.
We currently have five nonprofits located in the building: American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Kentucky, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, LKHP - a division of Community Action that provides Medicaid transportation, and South Central Kentucky Kids on the Block. There are several other businesses also in our building. We allow any nonprofit to use the conference room at no cost. Bowling Green Junior Woman’s Club and Crime Stoppers have used our meeting space and also store fundraising materials there so they don’t have to rent a storage building. We currently need to raise funding to complete renovations on the building.
Tell us a bit about your Executive Director Ashley Reynolds.
Ashley joined Kids on the Block in 2013 as a grant writer. She is extremely passionate about improving the lives of children, encouraging people to be healthy, and keeping our community safe. She is a member of the Crime Stoppers Board of Directors and leads the monthly M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel). She enjoys serving as a Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce Ambassador. She stays involved in the community and helps fellow nonprofits by being a member of the Bowling Green Junior Woman’s Club and the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club. Her proudest accomplishment with Kids on the Block is bringing the free kids runs to three counties. Her passion for health extends to adults and she runs a yoga studio called Fit BG Yoga. Ashley is married and has two step sons.
Anything else you’d like us to know about Kids on the Block?
We are the only group in the state of Kentucky that goes into schools to present about child abuse. We stress the importance of presenting this topic in schools because the school is hopefully seen as a safe place where the children can disclose any harmful or threatening situations. We have dozens of child abuse disclosures annually.
Also, many people don’t realize how small our staff is at Kids on the Block. Many people don’t realize that we have just four people presenting hundreds of programs every year. These same individuals also have fundraising responsibilities and administrative tasks. Kids on the Block employees commit long-term to the organization.