When Germaine and Al Dietsch arrived in Colorado in the 1980s, she was unsettled about a lot of things: what should she do with her education, what about a career and her family. As she wrestled with these questions, Germaine came upon the opportunity of her life through a connection with Annabel Clark at the University of the Denver’s Graduate School of Theater. There would be, ultimately many, many other important connections.
Although Germaine’s early academic interest was in Cultural Anthropology, Annabel urged her to pursue a degree in theater. At Denver University, Germaine studied Seniors Theater and got her Master’s degree in that field along with a Certificate in Gerontology. A part of her program there involved working with seniors from senior centers in the Denver area. She recruited participants to be a part of performing troupes that would tell stories and perform. After graduation, she continued the connection to the senior groups and made another connection with the Denver Public Schools Director of Community Partnerships and its Director at that time, Christine Smith.
It was here that a wonderful opportunity presented itself in the form of a challenge. At that time there was a truancy program for kids in the Denver schools with attendance and discipline problems. Students were required had to attend special classes at the old Children’s Hospital. Here, Germaine’s happy group of seniors were asked to come in and put on a program for the kids.
The scene was set. The kids were there all sitting on the window sills not really wanting to be in the room. Germaine and the group came in and began telling stories, and performing skits and comedy improv. The kids stared in rapt and unbelieving awe as the seniors created an afternoon of stories, improv games and, generally, a great time.
That was it! That magical connection between kids and older adults was created anew in that dingy room at Children’s Hospital. This performance would have far-reaching implications.
Germaine was not through with this idea. She continued to other reach out to storytellers and people interested in this idea. The seniors group in Denver expanded and began telling stories in other schools. The group had no formal name until a kid who had listened to one of the programs commented, “you guys are spellbinding and I love it!” The name stuck and the idea spread.
Soon, there were other areas interested in duplicating this idea and Spellbinders Chapters were formed throughout the country. Professional storytellers helped refine the skills of the Chapter members through workshops and trainings.
Growth and expansion of this seniors storytelling program followed with the receipt of a grant from The Colorado Trust. Germaine began speaking at Senior Programs and conferences around the country about this wonderful concept. Naturally, there was a lot of interest in this innovative, wonderful idea and that led to the rapid formation of other Spellbinder Chapters.
As it turned out, it was a bit too rapid an expansion. Germaine said, “we went from a mom and pop operation to a full-blown non-profit without stopping to think about all we getting into; or, to take a deep breath to answer a lot difficult questions about how Spellbinders needed to work.”
Looking back through all this, what is the connection Germaine found? She simply said, “I found my purpose. In storytelling, I’ve a new-found-energy and a fresh connection with kids.”
It was and continues to be the connections in our lives and in Germaine’s life, in particular, that was the creative energy that propelled Spellbinders along and continues to do so. Germaine had the courage to act on these connections and because of that, Spellbinders is what it is today. So, in the end, it was Germaine’s willingness to pursue the connections in her life that helped her realize her purpose and sense of the value of storytelling that continues to serve as a guide for all of us.
Spellbinders’ Trustee Ray Mohr wrote this after interviewing Germaine Dietsch in the summer of 2014