LITTLE CHUTE — What started out as a way for Sandy Oudenhoven to calm down students in her classroom has become an opportunity to share the faith with children. Oudenhoven uses hand puppets to put smiles on the faces of her young audience while at the same time sharing Bible stories.
During a family Advent event Nov. 29 at St. John Nepomucene Parish, Oudenhoven told the story of Jesus’ birth using puppets. Her presentation was sprinkled with audience participation, including singing, dancing and sign language.
“I gear the show around what they are trying to teach the children,” she said. “This one, of course being Advent, is all about Jesus.” She also offers a puppet show with an Easter theme.
Oudenhoven began offering puppet shows about seven years ago. Five years ago, Nancy LeBoeuf, coordinator of St. John Nepomucene’s annual “Advent Adventures” family event, invited Oudenhoven to perform an Advent puppet show.
“She has such a way about her and I guess I have to say a spirit,” said LeBoeuf, who was impressed with the interaction Oudenhoven has with children as well as adults. “She’s good, she’s kind and she works so well with children. She’s always so willing to do it.”
Oudenhoven said she never imagined getting in front of an audience with a puppet on her hand. “I felt kind of intimidated at first,” she said. But something magical happened when she used a puppet for the first time in her classroom at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in Appleton.
“I just picked it up by chance and when I saw their reaction, when I saw their faces, I thought, ‘How can I not do this?’ They really enjoyed it and I wanted to make them smile,” said Oudenhoven. “Then it just snowballed from there.”
Parents began inviting her to perform at birthday parties; day care centers also contacted her. She then started offering “Songs, Stories and Fun” puppet shows nearly every month of the school year at the McDonald Street and Marquette Street campuses of St. Francis Xavier School.
“I did it to give joy to the children and what I found is the joy I get from their reactions and their little faces,” she said. “I was given the joy right back. Isn’t that so true every time we extend ourselves, like helping someone else?”
Oudenhoven’s version of the Golden Rule continues to influence her puppet ministry.
“You find such fulfillment because you are made to help others and … the more you give, the more you get,” she said. “That really comes through with these shows.”
Her joy comes in seeing the smiling faces of children at her puppet shows. “I have the best seat in the whole house because I get to see their reactions, which is priceless,” she said.
Oudenhoven and her husband, Dale, have been married for 30 years. They do not have children, so the puppet shows bring her happiness being around children. “I consider them mine in a way,” she said. “I so love children.”
It never dawned on Oudenhoven that puppeteering had turned into a ministry, she said, until others pointed it out.
“I wondered if it’s the Lord’s way of telling me to do a ministry for children,” she said.
“Maybe I’m meant to do this as a ministry because I always doubted myself,” Oudenhoven added. “Other people were bringing that to my attention, so I thought if this is a way to serve the Lord, then I’m going to do it. … Let the Lord lead and see what happens. If I can make someone smile then that’s a blessing.”
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Sandy Oudenhoven
Parish: St. John Nepomucene, Little Chute
Favorite saint: Blessed Mother
Words to live by: “Never fear, the Holy Spirit is here.”