Last week our Civitan group had a very special person come to visit! Amanda came bringing her friend, Ellen Jane, who is her puppet. Amanda is a beautiful young lady with Down Syndrome who is a puppeteer with Kids On The Block. She did an amazing job getting across the point that people with special needs are more like us average people than unlike us. Kids On The Block is an award-winning international educational program created in 1977 by Barbara Aiello. It was originally created when “mainstreaming” children became a law. It was designed to help introduce children with special needs into school classrooms. The program uses child size puppets to carry out its purpose.
The highly trained puppeteers use a form of puppetry called Bunraku. They are dressed in black and become shadows behind the puppet. The puppets have distinctive personalities and portray, through carefully scripted material, a world of real life situations. As the puppets come to life, children identify with them and open up to them as if they were trusted friends. It is a wonderful way to help children as well as adults understand that people with special needs are people just like them who have the same interests, needs, feelings and desires that they have.
About 2 1/2 years ago Amanda’s mother heard that Les Passees Kids On The Block, a branch of Les Passees which is a women’s volunteer organization, was looking for someone with Down Syndrome who would be a puppeteer as a self-advocate. Amanda tried out for the part and got it! At first she worked with an old Ellen Jane puppet that had a lot of problems. The story of how she got her new Ellen Jane is amazing. This is how her mother tells the story:
“Les Passes had an old Ellen Jane Peterson puppet and at one of the first training
sessions, Amanda asked the instructor, “What is wrong with Ellen Jane?” and
the instructor said, “Well, Amanda, she has Down syndrome.” Amanda replied,
“No, I know that — she doesn’t have any shoulders or knees.” Everyone cracked up
laughing. Needless to say, Amanda gave a presentation to the Bartlett Civitan Club
telling them of the need for a new Ellen Jane. They granted funds to DSAM and purchased
Amanda a brand new Ellen Jane that cost $850. Amanda was thrilled. This one has
knees and shoulders.”
Amanda has a dream, which is to set a good example and show people just how capable people with Down Syndrome are.
She puts it this way, “There are so many things that I and others with Down Syndrome can do. When people hear Down Syndrome, instead of a pitiful or confused look, I want them to have a smile of acceptance and understanding, just like I do. I hope that my efforts will make it easier for others with Down Syndrome to be accepted and understood.”
What an inspiration she is!