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STARS’ Kids on the Block (KOB) program educates children and the broader community about challenges and important issues that affect their lives, reaching nearly 40,000 children and adults in schools and community agencies throughout Cannon, Davidson, Dickson, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties.

Using puppets and other teaching tools, KOB promotes understanding and acceptance of all children and adults, regardless of their differences.

In 1977, special education teacher Barbara Aiello had a student, Anthony, with cerebral palsy who used a wheelchair. Anthony was bright, and Barbara felt that he was ready to be mainstreamed into a “regular” classroom. A few days later, Anthony told her he didn’t want to go back to that classroom because children ignored him, made fun of him and didn’t want to play with him.

While Anthony was academically prepared, teachers or children in the “regular” classroom weren’t prepared for Anthony. So, Barbara made a puppet with Anthony’s likeness, including his red hair and constructed a wheelchair out of garden hose and bicycle tires. Using the puppet, Barbara explained to his class why he looked different, talked differently and used a wheelchair. Kids on the Block was born the moment children began to raise their hands to ask the puppet character questions. When a hand was raised, a barrier came down.

From there, Anthony’s puppet grew to a family of puppet characters and programs designed to help children understand and cope with sensitive issues.

Coming to Nashville
In 1981, Alva Duke brought Kids on the Block to the Nashville area. Because her son Adam was born with Down syndrome, she was concerned about how he would be accepted by his community. After seeing a KOB presentation at an ARC Convention, she knew she’d found a way to teach acceptance. Thirty years later, Nashville’s KOB program is still reaching tens of thousands of children every year with messages of acceptance, sensitivity and hope.

In 2006, Kids on the Block of Middle Tennessee successfully merged with STARS, reaching nearly 40,000 children through more than 450 puppet presentations.