ORLANDO, Fla. – In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses and non-profit organizations have had to shift their operating strategies to online platforms.
Such was the case for Michelee Puppets, an Orlando based non-profit that puts on special shows for students in elementary and high schools in central Florida.
"We're able to go into the schools with live performances and we also have videos that use puppets to teach kids the tactics that they can use to stop the bullying," Tracey Conner, executive director of Michelee Puppets said.
She founded the organization 35 years ago and in order to continue engaging with kids, Conner and her team launched Puppet Chats.
"Michelee puppets has always been focused on making a difference in children’s lives so these puppet chats are something that we probably wouldn’t have thought of if it weren’t for the pandemic, but we have seen that there’s a real value and a desire for families to participate,” Conner said.
While kids are home they can use zoom to chat in real-time with one of their puppets for 10 minutes.
Conner said the idea to create the non-profit began after she graduated from Bowling College in Ohio where she majored in theater and performed in a show called Kids on the Block.
"I saw that theater and particularly puppetry could be used to do more than entertain. We were building bridges of friendship between children with and without disabilities," Conner said. "It really just touched my heart in a powerful way. So when I graduated and moved to Orlando in 1985 I decided to start a non-profit organization to do Kids on the Block and to just use puppets to really impact children's lives."
Their mission centers around education, empowering children and creating awareness about child abuse, domestic violence, and bullying.
"The beautiful thing about puppetry is that puppets are not threatening," Conner said. "They can talk about things that they might not talk about with a real person. They can share their feelings. They can ask questions they might feel uncomfortable asking an adult."
For Leonor McHugh, who has a 9-year-old daughter with autism, the organization has given her family a new sense of hope.
"What this puppet chat experience has done is amazing," McHugh said. "She is friendlier now. Actually her shadowing for her school which I want to get her in to, she would not have been able to do the zoom meeting to interview for the school that she needs to be in if it weren't for the puppet chats. I've been very very fortunate to have them in my life and in my daughter's life."
To schedule a virtual puppet chat with Michelee Puppets, click here.