Empowering youth with puppets

Rebecca Tremblay (left) and Anne Lebans (right) are creating a youth empowerment series titled It's OK to be Awesome. (Julia Pazzano/AQ)

St. Thomas University alumnae Rebecca Tremblay and Anne Lebans have received development funding from the TELUS Fund to produce a youth empowerment web series called It’s OK to be Awesome.

“The series itself is aiming to be a cross between TED Talks and The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” said Lebans.

The series formed out of the combination of Tremblay’s work with puppeteering and Lebans’ work with life-coaching. The duo created an eight-session after-school program and a March Break camp to promote youth empowerment. The pair chose to work with children because there was a need for this type of education at an early age.

“We realized there was a need for self-worth and self-love education in the curriculum because we’re not taught how to love ourselves or how to find ourselves worthy,” said Lebans.

The web series is broken down into segments starting with “TEZ Talks” featuring Tez, a green puppet with big eyes, pointy ears and blue hair. Tez interviews his puppet friends about how to manage emotions, learning from failure, embracing yourself and how “we choose what we want to believe,” said Tremblay.

The series, which features a puppet named Tez, focuses on mental wellness. (Julia Pazzano/AQ)

“We use the puppets to deliver the content because we know that children learn more when they’re having fun,” said Tremblay.

The series will also feature a segment called “Sidewalk Talks,” where nine-year-old Kaiya Hemmings from the YouTube channel Heart Fun, will interview puppets about topics from the “TEZ Talks.”

Each episode will end with a special musical number featuring Canadian artists like David Myles and Stephen Lewis. Children will be able to see that even celebrities and adults deal with mental illness.

“Mental wellness touches everyone,” said Tremblay.

Tremblay and Lebans have spent the last year going through the process of applying for funding through TELUS and raising money for their series. Tremblay said they are grateful to their friend Seth Barkhouse, as well as Fredericton community member Jason Munn and the Thomas Keats Organization for providing funding.

The pair hopes the series will eventually be available in Canadian classrooms. (Julia Pazzano/AQ)

She said the series is in the production phase and they’re hoping to start filming in Saint John this December. To help the project move forward, Tremblay and Lebans are still seeking funding and sponsorship.

They’re continuing to work with teachers and parents in workshops while filming.

“[Teachers and parents] are really important if we want our community to take a new course and have more self-awareness and more self-compassion,” said Lebans.

The goal is for this series to be available in classrooms across Canada. They’re also aiming for it to become a TV show. Lebans said they hope this web series will help make mental wellness a priority.

“[Making it] something people know how to cultivate and strengthen and to make society more loving and healthy.”