Appreciating Denise Goldbeck in KITS 25th Year

By Bennet Wong & Jock McKeen, co-founders of The Haven

Denise Goldbeck is the creator and leader of Kids in the Spotlight, now in its 25th year at The Haven.

We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the kids’ program at The Haven conducted by Denise Goldbeck. Two and a half decades of ongoing development, teaching and learning by youngsters and the adults involved!

When we first met her, she was an aspiring ballet dancer. We saw a sensitive, shy young woman who had such a caring heart. She was encased in a necessity for control and caution.  But, we aren’t bothered by people who want control; they make the best leaders when that control is used in the service of others. Shy, reserved, but with an active mind and a ready sense of humour when she decided she was safe.

She told us about early life difficulties that explained her reserve and caution. We learned that when she and her brother experienced threatening situations, she would protect her brother physically, and psychologically with her imaginative use of storytelling.  She created worlds to where she could lead her brother to psychological safety.  This was her early exploration into the creative use of fantasy and imagination.

She did her training at The Haven, and we saw her unusual gifts and her evident caring.  Denise is so dramatic, that for some, she is an acquired taste. When you first meet her, you might have to have your most confident side on, since she will be full of opinion and offerings, all for your own good!  But we found she always listens, and reflects on what she has heard.

At Ben’s suggestion, she developed a program for kids, to amplify the magic she had learned to ply with her brother. Ben has suggested a lot of things to a lot of people over the years; usually, like the fabled mustard seeds, many fall on rocky ground, and don’t take.  But with Denise, she came back with enthusiasm, and developed a kids’ program that incorporates theatre, arts, the communication model, and a deep sensitivity to the importance of youngsters learning cooperation, sharing and mutual support and encouragement.

Denise is an exemplary leader, teacher, and human being. We are proud to be associated with her. She took the difficulties of her past, and rather than remained victimized by experiences she had in her early developmental years, she incorporated her sensitivity and understanding of suffering into a distinctive creativity. She has a way of drawing out even the most withdrawn individuals, and helping to connect them with more confident people for support. She also knows how to rein in an aggressive or insensitive youngster, assisting them on the path to learning empathy and inclusion.

She has brought a demographic to The Haven that is unique … young people.  Now, several generations of kids look to Denise as having been one of their significant influences in becoming human and confident and happy. As her attendees grow, she does not push them out of the nest. Instead, she has amplified her program to incorporate youth trainees, and devotes hours to teaching others what she knows so well. So, now her innovative  teaching is enhanced by an integrated training program, that involves youth, parents, other interested adults, and, well, people of all stripes!

She has an eye for just how much challenge to provide to each person.  We have seen dozens, maybe hundreds of her shows.  We have so many memories of seeing the same kids year after year, and watching their development.  She has a knack of offering a shy kid a brief moment to shine in the spotlight, and then invisibly assemble the hearts and minds of other kids to bring this moment forward.  Everyone celebrates: the shy kid in the spotlight, the amazed parents in the audience, and the others who are so enthusiastically supporting the accomplishment.  Denise is in the background, watching proudly from the wings. There is always a big audience, composed of parents and Denise fans, who love to watch the magic that unfolds, program after program, year after year.

Every summer for the past two and a half decades, she has arrived at The Haven with a van-load of theatrical equipment, costumes and surprising items. So much great colourful stuff for kids to use and enjoy.  We suspect that her house is 1/3 theatrical storage!  With this equipment, Denise brings a host of ideas.  Then, she doesn’t tell the kids what to do. She provides a structure in which they can develop their own imaginations.

Designing and conducting this successful program with such happy response from so many is a major accomplishment indeed.

But, she didn’t stop there. After developing and refining her program, and marketing it to make it successful in an ongoing way, she continued to deepen. She recognized that child development and learning can benefit from a teacher who is versed in theories and models.  So, she returned to school, and embarked upon an academic path in which she has distinguished herself.  We know that her professors have found her to be a memorable student …. not one who just swallows their ideas, but instead, questions, and fantasizes, and creates models herself.  For a while, she was such an egg-head, arriving at The Haven with her latest venture into learning models.  She is seasoned now, and her extensive academic training is not worn on her sleeve; but it’s there, and we have turned to her to discuss issues of child development and education, to clarify some things for ourselves. In her PhD work, she is forging an amalgam of humanistic practice with academic theory.

Not many have done what she has done.  She refused to dwell on the past, to identify as a victim. She stayed connected with her brother and continued to explore and learn herself. Others would close up in difficulty, she retained her artistic sensitivity. As she grew and developed herself, she directed herself to a career in helping others gain confidence, and skills of self-expression and self-development.

She has created a unique program at The Haven, that is her brainchild.  Ben suggested the nucleus of the idea.  But she really ran with it. And she developed a youth training program that will help to develop the future leadership of programs at Haven, not only for kids, but for all ages. The youth leaders of today will be the Come Alive leaders of tomorrow.

We celebrate Denise, we respect her, we love her.  She has made a most distinctive mark on the Haven environment, one that will endure. The Haven will see her marks long after she is gone, as the hundreds, maybe thousands of kids she has touched, continue in her path.

A big standing ovation for Denise Goldbeck!


Ben and Jock



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