White Cane Walk Grand Marshals: Senator King and our own Renaldo Rodriguez!

Senator Angus King and Renaldo Rodriguez chat about Maine’s White Cane Law while puppeteer Bridget Fehrs looks on.
Senator Angus King and Renaldo Rodriguez chat about Maine’s White Cane Law while puppeteer Bridget Fehrs looks on.

Independence is the word! Renaldo Rodriguez and Senator Angus King have accepted invitations to be the Marshals of the 18th annual Iris Network White Cane Walk for Independence on Saturday, October 19th. The white cane is a mobility tool for individuals who are visually impaired or blind and October is White Cane Safety month. It symbolizes independence, something both Renaldo and Senator King believe in.

Who is Renaldo Rodriguez? The White Cane Walk’s Grand Marshal, Renaldo is a member of the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s Kids on the Block® puppet troupe, a disability-awareness program. Theatre Artistic Director Reba Short notes, “KOTB teaches children about disabilities and to accept them.  Renaldo is an 11 year old boy who uses a white cane. He teaches kids about visual impairment and blindness. We are delighted that Renaldo will be leading the Walk this year!”

Senator King signed the White Cane Bill into law in 1999 when he was then Governor of the State of Maine. Maine’s White Cane Law ensures that people who are visually impaired or blind and who use a white cane or dog guide have the same right as sighted pedestrians to travel safely on foot. The Law notes that traffic should yield, as always to pedestrians in the cross-walk. Drivers should not shout or gesture at individuals using a white cane or a dog guide.

The White Cane Walk for Independence is held every October to coincide with White Cane Safety month. It starts and ends at Monument Square in Portland. It is a cheerful 1.2 mile stroll through the Old Port and the proceeds raised provide training, education and support for people with vision loss or blindness throughout the State of Maine.

About The Iris Network

The Iris Network is a state-wide, community-based private nonprofit with a vision of building a world where no person is limited by visual impairment or blindness and everyone is an advocate for eye health and the needs of people who are visually impaired or blind.  Based in Portland, The Iris Network has field-offices in Saco, Lewiston, Bangor, Houlton, Augusta and Rockland.   For more information about any vision loss related issue, visit The Iris Network at www.theiris.org.

Inspired by pal and puppet, Bridget created Visual Impairment Awareness Day

Bridget (second from right, with Reynaldo) and her fellow Kids on the Block puppeteers.

Bridget Fehrs, an 8th grader at Lincoln Middle School, has been a puppeteer with Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s Kids on the Block puppet troupe for nearly three years. (If you come to our theatre productions, you’ve probably seen her on stage there, too – she’s been acting with us for years, and just appeared as Country Mouse in our latest show.) The Kids on the Block puppets each live with a different disability or special need, and the young puppeteers who bring them to life are responsible for learning all about each puppet’s disability and being able to answer questions from the audience. Bridget is one of several puppeteers who got to know Reynaldo, a puppet who is visually impaired; she learned how to operate the puppet’s cane and answered dozens of questions from children curious about blindness.

Actors/volunteers Hannah and Jane received a sighted guide training from The Iris Network.

Inspired both by Reynaldo and by a friend who is blind, Bridget approached us with a thoughtful proposal for a Visual Impairment Awareness Day, an event to help kids “better understand what children who are blind encounter in their day to day activities.” To organize the event, Bridget and I worked in collaboration with The Iris Network, a Maine non-profit serving the visually impaired. With financial support from Unum (a longtime sponsor of the Kids on the Block puppet troupe), the event will take place on Saturday, April 27th here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine.

Events will include Sighted Guide Tours, during which visitors can put on blindfolds and be guided by Kids on the Block puppeteers (trained by The Iris Network), a Braille scavenger hunt, and a Q&A with Cammy, who works for The Iris Network assisting the visually impaired.

Events will take place from 11am-4pm. Get all the details on our calendar of events. All the Visual Impairment Awareness events are free with admission!

Meet Barbee Gilman, our Board President!

Teacher? Lawyer? Doctor? Business Consultant? Barbee Gilman could have been anyone of these but instead has decided to stay home while her children are still school-aged and devote her time to her family, her community, volunteerism and leading the Children’s Museum & Theatre Board of Directors. As a passionate friend of the Museum & Theatre for over 10 years, Barbee thoroughly believes in the mission of the organization and we are very proud to have her involved at the very highest board level possible. Because Barbee’s work with the Museum & Theatre is exemplary and we can’t thank her enough for her commitment and positive attitude, I have asked her to share some of her reflections and happy Museum & Theatre moments with us:

The Gilman Family!

“I am the President of the Board of the Children’s Museum and Theatre, and someone recently asked me why I am still involved with the organization even though my kids are older now. I replied, “That’s easy–The Children’s Museum literally saved me that first winter I moved to Maine from New York City!” I took my kids all the time–they loved it, and I was very impressed with the range and quality of the programs offered. I was so appreciative that this fun–and educational–resource existed in our community. I truly believe that education is second only to health in importance, and that the years from 0-6 are critical: The Museum & Theatre is a place where kids can learn and grow during those vital years–and the best part is that parents can witness it firsthand!

As the school year comes to a close, we are once again reminded how fast time flies and how quickly our kids are growing up. We long for the beautiful Maine summers, but it also seems that these days are bittersweet as we watch our child “graduate” from his or her first year of pre-school or kindergarten….or in my case, finish his first year of high school! Now, as I look up (literally) to my oldest, I reminisce about those days when, instead of driving to various sports activities, we were hanging out at a playground or spending our days at the Museum & Theatre.

So, to those of you with that “terrible two” or that three-year old who will only leave the house in her Disney princess costume, I have one piece of advice: remember that each stage is fleeting, and try to slow down the clock by creating special memories. The Museum & Theatre is a place where you can do just that: drive the firetruck; fly the space shuttle; have races with balls; participate in Big Messy Art! And, then, do it again and again, because before you know it, they are the ones driving and the balls you are seeing are the ones in the air during their high school games.”

Celebrating AmeriCorps Week!

Did you know that this is AmeriCorps week? It’s a week to celebrate the people of all ages who commit to serving at non-profits across the nation. AmeriCorps members commit to full-time service positions for terms of at least several months (some serve for several years!), receiving a small stipend, money to apply toward education, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (That’s just a smidge of an explanation about what this program does – you should definitely check out their website to find out all about what they do.) The programs, exhibits, productions and events that happen here could not happen without our AmeriCorps members – thank you ALL for your service!

I asked all of our current staff who are or were AmeriCorps members to tell me a little about their experience with the program and what has made it worthwhile. Read on to get to know four of our favorite Americorps members!

Jamie Andrew, Volunteer Coordinator and Educator (member 2008-2009): I spent eleven months as an AmeriCorps Community Resource Corps member here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine starting in 2008 – I wore a lot of different hats, learned more than I ever fathomed possible, and grew exponentially as a person and as a working professional. Initially I saw serving in AmeriCorps as a way to give back – but now I see that it was a great way to transition into a meaningful, professional job. Currently I’m a full-time Educator as well as the Volunteer Coordinator here at the Museum & Theatre, and I couldn’t be happier. It can be tough (sometimes nearing impossible!) to live on an AmeriCorps stipend – but at least now I know how to cook on a teeny-tiny budget. Besides – in the end, it’s all worth it. Tenfold.

Hannah Wilhelm, Science Educator (member 2009): I served as Maine Conservation Corps Environmental Educator in 2009 at the Department of Environmental Protection here in Portland. Every summer, the state’s Biomonitoring Program captures insects, algae, and water samples from rivers, streams, and wetlands. Last summer, we traveled to Aroostook County to collect samples. I helped with data entry, and started a teaching herbarium of wetland plants. One of the best parts of my year was visiting schools to teach outreach lessons about water quality and insects that live in streams and ponds. I appreciated getting a chance to see the inside view of how part of the state government works. The state biologists I assisted are dedicated and patient. They are engaged in service work every day. Getting to help them exposed me to so many new people and places, and I am so grateful for the experience.

Kathryn Miller, Marketing & Public Relations Assistant (current member): I began my AmeriCorps position in the Marketing and PR department in late September and I can’t believe it has already been 8 months! Since I started, I have learned so many skills that are invaluable to my professional career. Coming in with just a little old degree in English and Theatre, I have now gained responsibility for the Museum & Theatre’s entire social media presence. I’ve even be given the opportunity to use Adobe Design programs to make graphics and signage, something that I NEVER saw myself learning – and now I really enjoy it! AmeriCorps is a great option for those who want to use their knowledge and skills to give back to a community that sorely needs them and for those who want a chance to grow with an organization and be given opportunities you could never receive in an entry level job.

Matt Chamberlain, Museum Assistant (current member): I started my AmeriCorps position at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine just two months ago. My first week was “Auction week,” which needless to say was hectic and a little intimidating. Everyone on staff was more than helpful though, so I was quickly put at ease. We then moved on to designing and creating the set for the theatre’s production of “The Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings.” This was right in my wheel house and I felt completely at home painting and fabricating faux trees and rocks. It’s such a great sense of pride to watch a production that I had a part in creating. I think this is what makes this place so special. There is a lot of hard work involved but at the end of the day you get to see your results come to life and actually enrich someone else’s life.

I’d also like to give shout-outs and huge thank yous to past Museum & Theatre AmeriCorps members Shawn Cole, Becky Mueller and Shana Tinkle!

Meet Julie Chevalier, 2010 Auction Chair!

Each year since the late 1980s, our annual auction has raised much-needed funds to keep our Portland-based organization a premier cultural institution for all children and families, regardless of need. For the past four years, we have had one particularly dedicated auction volunteer who has made a huge contribution to our auction leadership team. Her name is Julie Chevalier and she is this year’s auction chairwoman. I asked Julie to share some of her reflections on the auction with us:

Julie Chevalier, 2010 Auction Chair

I moved to Maine in August of 2006 and in October I attended my first Children’s Museum meeting. A friend of mine, whom I had just met, said I had to come because I would meet some fun ladies – and I did!

I jumped in with both feet that year and became the Captain of the Kids category for the annual auction. I had never worked on an auction before – I had never even made a real solicitation call before, either! I was nervous and excited all at the same time.

I did have some great women to help me that year who had worked on the auction for many years and who were able to guide me along. I was amazed when the big day finally came and we set up the whole room with all the silent auction items. I could not believe how many items we had all put together! The night seemed to be the icing on the cake – a really fun night with friends to celebrate our hard work.

Working on the auction allowed me to find all kinds of businesses in the Portland area that might otherwise have taken me years to find. I found myself seeking out restaurants and toy stores that had donated to the auction; I wanted to give them my business in return for their donation. It also helped me to pass a long Maine winter – I found that suddenly it was March and the auction was almost here and the snow would soon be gone! Continue reading “Meet Julie Chevalier, 2010 Auction Chair!”

Meet Allison, a Theatre volunteer!

I love working with enthusiastic volunteers and I want to share one of them with you. Allison acted and volunteered with the Children’s Theatre of Maine for years and I am so lucky that she has continued her volunteer work here at the Museum & Theatre. The kids love her and she is so helpful during rehearsals! Here is what Allison had to say about her experiences volunteering with the theatre program:

Allison outside the Dress-Up Theatre

“My first memories of the Children’s Theatre of Maine are from when it was still located on Marginal Way, where I participated in several of the summer musical-intensive camps. It was an opportunity to gain theatre experience outside of my school, work with new kids, and make new friends. I had so much fun undergoing our intense rehearsal schedules; we had the chance to spend every day singing and dancing for 8 hours! By high school, I was completely immersed in our drama program and am currently majoring in Theatre and Art History at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. I became re-immersed into the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine as I was searching for summer jobs and keeping my fingers crossed for something within my field of study. Continue reading “Meet Allison, a Theatre volunteer!”