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Undergraduate

Kieran Braun

Bonner Center Senior Capstone Presentation – Miles of Smiles- by Kieran Braun

My Bonner experience has been one of immense learning and growth. My growth journey started immediately as I participated in the Bonner Scholar all-day interview process as a senior in high school. I had never experienced anything like that, so I was tremendously nervous. I had served hundreds of volunteer hours in high school, so I knew that I had a heart for service, but I also realized that, as an individual with autism, long conversations during the interview process might be challenging, to say the least. I was thrilled when I was chosen as a 2014 Bonner Scholar and had the opportunity to meet my fellow Bonners. As an incoming freshman, I did not know what to expect, but I quickly learned that Bonners were a team and we would learn together.

For my first service site experience, I chose Habitat for Humanity. I had volunteered at Habitat as a high school student and loved my time there, so it seemed like a natural fit. As an assistant at Habitat, I used my talents and energy to assist the Habitat staff in meeting the needs of those less fortunate. I cleaned, organized, and merchandised the items sold at the Habitat ReStore so that they were ready for customers to purchase. I also helped the staff load heavy objects and arrange items for resale. I always tried to bring a positive and caring attitude to work each day. It was not difficult because I had amazing people all around me. The upper class Bonners helped me to adjust and learn my responsibilities, and the Habitat staff was fabulous. Anyone who knows Habitat executive director, Shelia Wiggins, will assure you that you could not ask for a more supportive or kind leader. From day one, she was amazingly supportive, always enthusiastic, and forever wearing a smile.
Carolyn Vidal, the volunteer director, was also a fabulous mentor and always willing to provide guidance when we needed it. The entire staff at Habitat for Humanity was wonderful to work with and I will certainly miss each of them after graduation.
My work at Habitat has been quite eclectic. Inspired by my desire to get to know each of the volunteers, I utilized my graphic design background to create a directory of Habitat’s staff members and volunteer workers. The directory contains personal information and describes volunteer efforts. It will be used as an archive for Habitat and a resource for the staff and volunteers to get acquainted with fellow workers. In addition to my regular responsibilities at Habitat, I also had the opportunity to participate in special events such as a fashion show, where I served as the photographer and the annual fundraising gala, where I served as a waiter.
By volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, I learned to strengthen my communication with both volunteers and supervisors. I gained experience in coordinating my schedule so that as much work as possible could be accomplished each day I volunteered. I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to learn and grow through my experience at Habitat.

Another wonderful Bonner experience was our first-year trip to Washington D.C., where our group spent a week at the Steinbruck Center and volunteered with the National Coalition for the Homeless and the Capital Area Food Bank as we focused on hunger relief. I loved collaborating with the leaders of the organization as we sorted hundreds of canned food items, knowing that they would be distributed to those in need. We combined our work with some time for fun as well, having a chance to visit the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Washington Monument.
My first summer of service was spent as a Resource Development Intern at the Jefferson County Office on Aging in Dandridge. That summer was filled with so many learning opportunities. My goal was to use my graphic design skills to support the area senior centers. I developed brochures and marketing materials for the senior centers and created ads for their various site-related events.

I also interviewed seniors and created Wise Words, a documentary-type record of memories and words of advice from seniors to be shared with members of the community. My hope was that these interviews and the supporting documentation could lead to networking between members of the community and senior citizens in our area. It was a joy to record the comments from seniors regarding their favorite memories and most treasured possessions. When I asked how young people can support their elders, over and over again, I heard these sentiments: “Visit often!” “Spend one-on-one time.” “Talk a lot, listen even more.” “Lend a hand.” . . . Wise words, indeed! I cannot say enough about the tremendous encouragement I received during this experience. I was mentored by the, always smiling and often hugging, Office on Aging Director, Joan Bolden. Joan and the other directors were all so appreciative of my contributions. That summer experience was one I will definitely remember for years to come.
My main responsibility during that summer of service was to create a senior service directory. This project required numerous hours researching potential agencies. It was tremendously tedious and time-consuming, but the staff was very pleased, and my work resulted in a new senior service directory for the sixteen-county region of East Tennessee.

Beginning in the fall of 2015, I joined the Bonner campus recycling team. We shared lots of laughs as we rode in the back of a truck and collected recyclable items around campus. I enjoyed my time with that team doing a simple task to make a difference on campus.
My next Bonner experience was as a part of the Community Garden, pulling weeds, mixing compost, and fertilizing the garden. I think there is a lot of untapped potential in the garden. I hope to see it flourish in the future.

In 2016, I had the opportunity to partner with the Jefferson City Public Library. In addition to the typical work of shelving books, I created a digital inventory list of all the books available at the JCP Library. I also designed banners honoring national holidays for the library’s Facebook page. This was a great experience because I was able to use my major in graphic design to assist the library staff.
My volunteer time at the library, combined with my interest in puppetry and my experience in the Bonner 312: Social Entrepreneurship and Non-Profit class, culminated in the idea for my Senior Capstone Project. As a part of our class, we were assigned to create a non-profit organization and develop a plan to bring the organization to fruition. Since I have a tremendous passion for the arts and a desire to share that passion with children, I teamed with Rachel Harmon and Youjung Shim to create The Puppet Project. The mission of our proposed organization was to educate, entertain, and empower socioeconomically challenged children through puppetry arts. We pitched our proposal to a board of professionals who thought our proposed organization had great potential for success in our community.
I then decided to approach the director of the Jefferson City Public Library, Anjanae Brueland, to discuss the idea for my Senior Capstone Project . . . writing . . . directing , . . and performing puppet productions for the community in conjunction with the library’s summer reading program. My goal was to reach underprivileged children and teach them about making good choices, practicing teamwork, and building confidence. Anyone who knows me knows that I love the art of puppetry and want to share my passion for the arts with others. When I proposed my Capstone idea to Anjanae, she was ecstatic with the idea of presenting puppets to community children and strongly encouraged me to develop The Puppet Project. Throughout the process, Anjanae was my personal cheerleader. She always greeted me with a smile and a ton of energy. Anjanae was thrilled with my commitment and the commitment of our entire puppet team, and she supported me through each step of the planning process.
I knew that I would need several puppets, supplies to fabricate take-home puppet projects for the children, and a quality speaker for The Puppet Project to be a success. I also knew that it would be difficult to personally fund the entire Puppet Project, so I began to think of ways to secure funds to support it. I needed approximately $1,100 to bring the project to fruition.
I was awarded a $341 Community Fund grant toward the cost of puppets, but I still had to brainstorm a method to obtain funds for the sound equipment and other supplies that would be used as we helped the children to build puppets of their own. I then applied for and was awarded a $500 grant from the Bonner Rising Senior Fund. I ended up using $262.39 of my own money because I desperately wanted to bring this project to the children of our community.
As I was planning productions for the library, I served as an intern for a week of Puppet Camp at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. I also had the exciting opportunity to travel to St. Paul, Minnesota to the National Puppetry Arts Festival, where I attended a week’s worth of training and networked with many of the nation’s most notable professional puppeteers. Working with these professionals helped me to execute my Puppet Project with confidence and look forward to further opportunities to share the arts with children in our community.
I came back from these professional learning experiences, excited to share what I had learned with my team. The Puppet Project was the first time I was completely in charge of producing and directing a production and working with numerous people at different levels. I began preparing for the productions by constructing 500 paper puppet kits for the children to take home after the productions. Though it was a tedious process that took days to complete, I was excited at the thought of the kids experiencing the same joy that I had experienced as a child when I had the opportunity to make puppets of my own.

Recruiting a team of puppeteers and scheduling rehearsal times were some of my most complex responsibilities. Trying to coordinate summer rehearsal times for six college seniors was a monumental task. Fortunately, the puppeteers I recruited were some of my dear friends: Sierra Bevins, Alicia Smith, Caitlin Stroud, Katy Reed, and Zach White, and they did everything in their power to make it to the rehearsals so that we could put on a quality production.
We had a wonderfully successful registration week for our upcoming productions. Children came in to register and we assisted them in making a take-home puppet and teaching them some basic puppetry techniques. Even the shiest child had a blast playing with our puppets.
A few weeks later, we debuted my first Puppet Project program, Protect and Preserve, which taught children about the Great Smoky Mountains, environmental awareness, and some of the animals that live in the Smokies. It was a huge success. The children in the audience loved the humorous quality of the program and were thrilled to create their own puppets after the show.
My second production was a bullying awareness program. The first segment, Make a Plan, tells the story of how a little girl, Rosie, overcomes her anxiety and learns valuable methods of addressing a bully. The second segment, Different Does Not Mean Less, is about embracing diversity. It features a group of diverse students with various strengths and weaknesses. It also addresses the fact that individuals should not suppress the potential of children with disabilities. When Make a Plan premiered, it was, again, a success, and I received numerous requests for our team to perform this production in area schools. Since that play, I continue to receive positive feedback from community members, library staff, and children that attended the productions. It is humbling to know that my project impacted people in a positive way.
In my second Bonner Summer of Service and through my Capstone project, I was able to fulfill my goal of educating, entertaining, and empowering children through puppetry arts.

My Bonner life has been filled with more learning experiences than I could ever express. It has also been sprinkled with precious relationships and life long lessons. I could not have done this without the support of so many people. Our director, Chad Williams, was always in my corner, encouraging me each step of the way. And there are no words to describe how special Will Brummett is to me. From day one, he supported me in every way possible. When I approached him about the possibility of developing a puppetry-related project, he was excited about the thought of me sharing my passion for teaching through the arts, and he mentored me with unconditional love. Dave and Anya always were there to answer questions or cheer me on. When Will, Chad, and Anya left Carson-Newman, I was worried that Bonner life would not be at all the same. Thankfully, Matt came in and made a wonderful and smooth transition. It has been a joy getting to know him. Vincyl has also been a compassionate mentor, and I feel blessed to call him friend. Lastly, Deanna is always supportive and positive and is a wonderful addition to the Bonner staff. I am so very thankful for the opportunity to have shared Bonner life and Bonner love. I have learned so much . . . through ups and downs . . . trips and talks . . . parties and presentations. My Bonner experience will always be remembered as one with . . . Miles of Smiles.

Relevant Materials:

Student Capstone PPTX link https://thebonnercenter.box.com/s/46dy7aiprvojvvesbzb270cfg5qugnn7

Journal entries https://thebonnercenter.box.com/s/jppkzpbjgr3u0h26x0lu64qqw0x4rdgk

 

 

 

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