Kids on the Block

Winner: Having Fun
Awarded to an organization that encourages play.

Two little girls are sharing their feelings about divorce, and an audience of about 20 children is transfixed, too engrossed to care about—or to notice—the black-clad humans attached to each speaker. One eager young critic even rushes up to a human performer after the show to say, “You just missed the most amazing puppet show!”

Moments like these are typical for the 100 or so volunteers who each donate 10 hours per month to bring Kids on the Block Awareness Program’s “powerful puppetry” to Portland-area schoolkids. Last year alone, 70,000 first- through fifth-graders in Multnomah, Clackamas, Clark, and Washington Counties watched more than 550 shows on more than a dozen topics ranging from healthy eating to drug use to sexual abuse. (Schools don’t pay a dime for the performances.)

‘I’ve … never seen children as open as they are during our performances.’

Lynette Jelinek, the program’s director, says that for every moment of sweetness there are others that make teachers’ hearts ache. “I have seen children reveal to the puppets that they’ve been sexually abused, and their teachers are standing there, speechless,” Jelinek says. “I’ve been a counselor for at-risk kids for 20 years and have never seen children as open as they are during our performances.”

There are more than a thousand independent branches of Kids on the Block nationwide, but Portland’s, now in its 22nd year, is the largest. Jelinek says interest in volunteering has spiked (many puppeteers are young adults who watched shows themselves as kids), as has the number of children who reveal they need help. “If we reach just one child per show,” Jelinek says, “then we are more than fulfilling our mission.” —SW Contact: 503-736-3200;