The Joseph Maley Friends Puppet Troupe is a valuable resource when teaching younger audiences the importance of treating others with compassion and respect.

“I play soccer.  Can you play soccer like me?”

“What kind of tricks can you do with your chair?”

“I wear glasses! You are just like me!”

This is just a small sampling of the many questions and observations audience members offer following a Joseph Maley Friends Puppet Troupe performance.  This program uses child-sized puppets to perform for children in preschool through fourth grades, and is a unique way to teach the importance of compassion, acceptance, and respect for everyone.

Joseph Maley Friends utilizes the gifts of talented eighth grade puppeteers to teach children in an environment that breaks down barriers.  The “kids teaching kids” model encourages interaction between the puppets, puppeteers, and the audience.  Following each performance, audience members can ask the puppets questions, which is a valuable experience for both students and adults.  Children in the audience are often much more comfortable asking puppets about their disabilities than they would be asking a person in a group setting.  In addition, the Q-and-A session affords puppeteers the opportunity to highlight all the ways we are similar as people, instead of focusing on our differences.

Performances are often used to introduce JMF’s disABILITY Awareness program in schools, preparing students to engage in additional activities that address inclusion and respect.  Skits cover a wide variety of topics, including autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, visual impairments, bereavement, and siblings with disabilities.  In offering a wide selection of topics, the Joseph Maley Friends program supports the unique needs of each audience, whether in a school, local hospital, camp, or other community organizations.

While audience members young and old benefit from Joseph Maley Friends puppet performances, the eighth grade students who serve as puppeteers also enjoy their roles.  These young men and women train during the summer to learn skits and proper puppeteering techniques, including how to facilitate the all-important Q and A sessions.  They perform throughout the school year, which means they also gain time-management skills as they begin their transition into high school.

Puppeteers also have the opportunity to lead the next generation as camp counselors following their “graduation” from Joseph Maley Friends.  Clare Flanagan, a former puppeteer and counselor, said, “As a counselor, I was amazed to find all of the new puppeteers were looking up to me as a role model.  It is one thing to have smaller children look up to you, but it is an entirely different feeling when it is people almost the exact same age as you.  It’s an incredible feeling.  When you become a puppeteer…it helps shape you into a leader, a listener, and a person who welcomes all people no matter their abilities.”

Post written by: Courtney Basso, Events and Communications Manager