Performances to Grow On – Ojai Storytelling Festival

Feb 29, 2024 | 1 comment

In this ongoing series, we bring you news about how our grant funds are being put to work in our community. As we continue interviewing our grantee leaders, we’re reminded how much talent, passion, and cooperation exists among our grantee organizations – past and present.

Every October for over 20 years, some of the best storytellers in the country converge on Ojai for The Ojai Storytelling Festival. Audiences experience the power of live performance to expand their boundaries, connect with others, and foster self-discovery. With so many talented storytellers in town for the event, engaging kids is a logical extension of the Festival. OWF’s 2023 grant was for the Festival’s youth outreach program, Performances to Grow On. In addition to a performance for children at Libbey Bowl, storytellers visit schools and conduct classroom workshops. Each storyteller brings a unique form of engagement. Past examples include a puppeteer who performs in the morning and then visits classrooms to teach the children how to make puppets. Or a songwriter teaches how to write a song and then performs their songs during the Festival. One storyteller has visited incarcerated juvenile offenders and given them a voice for their life stories.

“I can’t express strongly enough the power of the spoken word to enrich a child’s vocabulary, listening skills and love of stories. Children today expect so much information to be handed to them or shown to them on the tv screen. Many have not learned to use their own imaginations to create pictures in their minds. Storytelling offers students a format for listening and understanding stories with some visual aids, but yet leaves some pieces up to the imagination.”
– Karen Dingman, Second grade teacher

Like most organizations, the Storytelling Festival suffered during the pandemic. Audiences couldn’t gather; schools were closed and travel restricted. The Festival’s founder, Brian Bemel, retired. With Kara Lakes’ long history of attending the Festival, volunteering, and then serving as Associate Director, she passionately sought to continue the Festival. She credits the 2021 OWF grant with the resurrection of the Festival, especially the youth outreach program. Alongside Performances To Grow On, Kara has been a dedicated educator in the Ojai Valley since 1997. Her passion for storytelling and commitment to education have left a lasting impact on the organization and its community.

There is an extensive list of volunteer opportunities on the Performances to Grow On website.

Photo captions:

(Left) Mara Menzies and an ASL Interpreter at a youth outreach performance at Libbey Bowl, (Right) Kara Lakes emcees “Meet the Tellers”