MILTON - A regional organization started thanks to a yard sale and a Christmas tree.
For years, signs kept pointing to Donna M. Bridge, president and CEO of Kingdom Kidz Inc., that she needed to incorporate puppets into her ministry. An elderly woman at Bridge's church bought some hand puppets at a yard sale for her to do just that.
Finally, Bridge accepted the signs and in December 1999 she decorated a Christmas tree in the lobby at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Milton with pictures of puppets and asked the congregation to adopt them.
Ten puppets were adopted, and she also got a stage and a used cassette player.
The first performance she did was at a first block party at the church, she then began to get calls about putting on programs for them.
"We just continued to grow," Bridge said.
Kingdom Kidz now does about 200 programs a year.
"We're on the road a lot," Bridge said. "God has blessed us with a truck and a van to haul the team. We're just going."
Yet the ministry grew in a surprising direction - non-religious.
After a fourth grader was kicked out of school for using tobacco, Bridge was asked to do a non-smoking program.
"We soon realized our call was outside the walls of the church and into the community," Bridge said.
She describes the organization as "education through puppetry." That education includes religious education programs, school programs, health fairs, church programs, safety programs and more.
"No matter what the subject is, we can do it," Bridge said.
The team has traveled to New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia to teach whatever is asked of it.
It is Bridge's vision to one day have a home in the Milton area where children, youth and adults can go to learn the artistry of puppetry. She wants to work with schools so that English classes can write scripts and art classes can do scenery and make puppets.
Summer is the busiest time of year for the organization because it is asked to do many Vacation Bible School programs.
The team ranges from eight to 12 people at a time, most of them adults.
Children can start puppetry at 10 years old, but once they get into high school, they usually leave to pursue jobs and other activities.
"Most of it is adults who have a passion to share Jesus and teach kids all about various subjects," Bridge said.
Except it isn't just children learning.
"You'd be amazed at how many adults come up after the program and say 'Wow, I learned something I never knew before,' " Bridge said. "When we take those puppets out, it's the adults who are having so much fun with them. They put the puppet on and become little kids."
Puppets work better at spreading messages because puppets can say things and children will believe it, she said.
"Adults could say it to a child and the child will say 'Yeah, OK,' " Bridge said. "A puppet can say it and there's something about the connection."
The puppets also help to distract the children. The organization received two puppets from Geisinger Health System. The puppets are used in therapy so the child can talk to the puppet to get his or her mind off the procedure.
"It's a tool, an instrument that God uses," Bridge said. "God uses a donkey, so why can't he use a puppet?"
While the puppets help children, they also help the adults who use them.
"It's been amazing how the puppets have changed people on the team," Bridge said. "They come in very shy and think they can't do anything. Within six weeks, it's amazing to see the transformation. ... They feel useful. It's amazing to watch their demeanor."