Guest blog post by Gwen Wenger. Gwen, her husband Keith, and her daughter Emma have been volunteering with SSD in many ways for several years. Emma is partnered with SSD Kindle.
SSD Kindle is not only an amazing service dog and partner, but she has now entered the world of theater! Emma is in 7th grade at Cedar Crest Middle School in Lebanon. She’s in the IU13 Multiple Disabilities Classroom with five other students. Emma and SSD Kindle have been a team for two years now, and Kindle goes to school every day with Emma to assist her in many ways and help connect her to her peers.
Cedar Crest Middle School chose Alice in Wonderland for their fall play. Emma and another classmate were given the opportunity to participate. They would be “heart children.” They were heart cards and part of a group of about 15 students who were playing the Queen of Hearts’ children. It was only at the final rehearsal that the decision was made to include Kindle onstage! The director made this last minute decision when she saw how amazingly well-behaved Kindle is. She was initially concerned that Kindle might be a distraction for the other students onstage. But it only took one time on stage to see that Kindle was a natural and complemented the cast perfectly! A first in stage history, I’m sure!
Kindle was given her own heart card costume and a red sparkly collar so she fit right in. two students also playing heart children were in charge of pushing the girls onto the stage for 3 scenes, including the finale. Every time Emma was pushed onstage, Kindle followed without hesitation and promptly “visited” on Emma’s lap or feet as the scene unfolded before her. There is no question that the audience thoroughly enjoyed Kindle’s presence onstage.
As proud as Emma’s dad and I were of our girls and their first stage debut, the best part for us was what was happening behind the scenes. The cast and stage crew was made up of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, many of whom didn’t know Emma and Kindle before the play. As I spent time backstage with them, I had the opportunity to watch Emma’s peers interact with her in an amazing way. Emma was thoroughly enjoying the entire experience from make-up to the cast party!
I had lots of chances to demonstrate what Kindle can do and how she assists Emma. There was one point when I started showing a small group of 6 or 7 students all of Kindle’s cues. When we turned around, there was a huge group of 25 or so kids watching. They particularly enjoyed when Kindle got to have a break, have her harness removed, and run around and play with them. By the end of practice, almost every student said goodbye to Emma and Kindle and told her how happy they were that she was part of the play. Not only was it a way for the students to get to know Emma, but it was a great opportunity to educate them about service dogs and their capabilities.
Now when Emma goes down the hall with Kindle, there isn’t one student that doesn’t know who they are and remember them from the play. We are so proud of both of them and are already looking forward to the spring musical!
Thanks again, SSD, for yet another opportunity to impact our daughter’s life in such a profound way!