One summer, Morgan, a Camp Kudzu camper, asked the puppet, Woodrow Weasel to be her date to the end-of-summer dance. Woodrow gladly obliged, but the day of the dance, due to complications from her Type 1 diabetes, Morgan had to stay in the infirmary. Woodrow overheard the news and decided to surprise his date at the infirmary. The 9-year-old girl was overjoyed and the moment was so magical that it’s hard to remember the man behind it, Jeff Domke, was even there.
Known as the “Puppet Dude,” this year will be Domke’s 15th summer creating special moments, such as the one above, with Camp Kudzu attendees. The nonprofit camp is dedicated to providing children and teenagers with Type 1 diabetes a camp experience that caters to their health needs. Their weeklong camps are filled with adventurous activities such as archery, fishing, kayaking, zip lining and more.
Domke, who is a professional puppeteer and education program coordinator at the Center for Puppetry Arts, initially got involved with Camp Kudzu after the Center for Puppetry Arts received a grant to do puppet education at special needs camps. Having never been to summer camp himself, he fell in love with the experience it provides children. After losing the initial grant that brought him to Camp Kudzu, he continued to volunteer freely each summer. Now, a private donor funds Domke’s visits to the camp.
This summer, he will bring his professional puppeteer skills to Camp Kudzu’s third (July 9-14) and fourth (July 30-August 5) camp sessions. While there, he will lead puppet-building workshops, puppet shows, use puppets to teach children about cultures from around the world, and host the annual talent show with the help of his co-host, Woodrow.
Domke assures that you don’t have to be a master puppeteer to bring joy to kids at Camp Kudzu, all you need is your time and dedication. As a nonprofit with a small yearlong professional staff, over 400 volunteers are needed each summer to make Camp Kudzu a wonderful place to learn and play. The staff will teach you everything you need to know to be a great volunteer. Plus, no prior knowledge of diabetes is required.
Want to volunteer and support puppetry throughout the year? Domke encourages people to volunteer as a docent at the Center for Puppetry Arts, or simply support the center with your admission to their amazing exhibits and shows.
Details: campkudzu.org, puppet.org