Nurturing Growth Through Understanding
Though Kentucky's rates of child abuse and neglect are the highest in the nation, action is being taken to educate, and show love to children across the state.
To the dismay of citizens and government officials alike, voids are being left in the hearts of many children in Kentucky. The state consistently has the highest rates of child abuse and neglect in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Services. This reoccurring travesty has continued to plague generations of young Kentuckians, but measures are being taken to shrink these numbers, and get children the help they need.

Kids on the Block is an International organization that performs purposeful puppet shows, to teach children everywhere about topics like child abuse and neglect, bullying, substance abuse, and accepting others.
Kentucky Kids on The Block Lead Puppeteer, Amanda Guerra, has been working in the organization for the last nine years. Though she knew she wanted to be involved with a non-profit when she graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2010, she could have never guessed puppets would be part of her work routine. "I did the interview and about an hour later she called me back and told me I got the job. And I'm like, 'okay, I guess I'm going to try being a puppeteer and see what happens'" said Guerra.
"It doesn't matter if your child is in a rich neighborhood, or in the poorest neighborhood; it happens everywhere," said Guerra.
On several occasions, children have disclosed the abuse they have suffered to Guerra. While receiving this information can be taxing, she knows that her knowing is for the betterment of the child. "It's kind of like a double-edged sword. You want them to be comfortable enough to come up and do that, because that's a goal of the program, but then it's horrible because you know that that child has gone through that, but then it's kind of happy that they're telling you, because now maybe they'll get help and it won't happen anymore," said Guerra.
The puppets shape the experience for the children, but Guerra and the other puppeteers at Kids on the Block are what make the spectacle come to life.
"I feel like to be a puppeteer…you can't just have the actor and you can't just have the heart. You gotta have a little bit of both to really make it work," said Guerra
The inspiration for Guerra's career choice developed long ago due to the love and support of her parents. They have always been there to support and encourage her, and continue to do so to this day. Their role has shifted in her life since Guerra had her daughter, Zoe, five years ago, but their relationship is still as strong as ever. "She (Zoe) always wants to be there. If you ask her, 'you can go anywhere. Where do you want to go?,' she'll say my mom's house," said Guerra.

The bond between her and her family are the pinnacle of importance to Guerra. She believes it is a major contributing factor to her happiness, and is a driving force for her to continue to help other children within her community. She hopes to emulate the care her parents showed her, so that as many children as possible can prosper.

Guerra values the moments quality time breeds, and looks forward to every opportunity she has to cherish them. "I like to be with the people that I care about, and, make memories with them, and do fun things with them… Once they're gone, they're gone, and you can't make those memories with them," said Guerra.
In her line of work, Guerra is consistently reminded of the many harsh realities that children face. This can wear on her at times, but she chooses to use what she's learned throughout her career as a way to teach her daughter about things that may not otherwise be spoken of. "Even something so simple as, one of her Barbie dolls, it's arm got broke and she didn't want to play with it anymore. And I'm like, 'Well, you know, there are people who are born without an arm, or they don't have a leg, or they can't walk and we don't just throw them away…We want to be their friends too," said Guerra.

Making a difference in the lives of others, while producing smiles and laughs, is what Guerra aims to do. She hopes by doing so that the world is a better place for all. "I think when a community can work together, then it makes their people stronger," said Guerra.

Guerra hopes that her daughter, Zoe, has a life filled with love and laughter. In order to do this, she brings as much excitement as possible to their activities. "I like to think I'm a fun mom. I get on the floor and play, and do those kinds of things with her," said Guerra.
Her line of work can produce gut-wrenching moments, but Guerra uses them as fuel. She tries to make the most out of these negative situations by using them as a way to educate her daughter.
"I'll come home after something like that's happened and I'll look at her, and I'll be like, 'I'm going to educate you. I want you to know that this is not okay,'" said Guerra.
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