Faculty Profile: Denise Goldbeck

By Gwen Ewan. This is the first in an occasional series about members of The Haven faculty. Denise is leading five sessions of Kids in the Spotlight back to back in July.

Denise Goldbeck leads Kids in the Spotlight – an immensely popular program for children, now in its 23rd year. She graduated from the Haven training program with a Diploma in Counselling in 1997 and is currently working on a PhD in Developmental Psychology at Simon Fraser University.

Kids in the Spotlight is a tapestry of the many threads of Denise’s life. She was a highland dancer as a kid, scraping together the money for lessons. At age 18 she met a talented ballet master who encouraged her in learning ballet and then to take on the role of a rehearsal director and teacher, telling her that she had a great talent for “wielding the masses”.

Some of that talent in directing others had been developed under the eye of a grade-five school teacher who gave Denise 10 minutes every Friday afternoon to present a skit that she had written, with other children in various roles. Denise carried on these skits at school for several years. She has no idea how the teacher came to the idea that this would be important to her. Denise describes this as “pure self expression” and her subsequent theatre training and work has primarily been in a self-expression style.

Denise reports that as a young woman she was working in theatre (she had a stable of characters that she had created and presented) and had a day job as a heavy duty diesel mechanic. Then she developed rheumatoid arthritis in response to a rubella vaccination. Out of her search for a new lifestyle and alternative healing methods she did two things. The first was to move to the Charlottes to teach ballet and mount theatre productions including a family theatre group that she created and for whom she choreographed, produced, designed costumes and directed musicals. These musicals had casts of up to 80 people of a wide variety of ages. The cast, the audience, and Denise, loved it.

The second thing she did was to go to The Haven for a Come Alive. Ben Wong and Jock McKeen (the founders of The Haven) then accepted her invitation to come up to the Charlottes to lead two Come Alives in her living room. They pointed out to her that she was doing more than teaching kids to dance and suggested she do a one week program for children at The Haven.

“Dance and Games” was born in 1987. The children attending the first program named it, explaining that girls like to dance and boys like games. (The name was changed to Kids in the Spotlight much later.) By 1989, Denise was leading two programs a year, one in July and one in August. She began adding more and running them back to back. Each year has utilized another popular Broadway or film musical and each has been enthusiastically received by the children and their parents and grandparents. In the past few years, as she began her graduate studies, she has added sessions for parents and grandparents on child development.

Denise, her husband and family now live in Vancouver. She is no longer troubled by rheumatoid arthritis. For four years, before her boys were born, she made her living leading the same sort of family theatre group that she had lead in the Charlottes. Now that her boys are teens, she is looking for a way to resume her family theatre venture – perhaps in a Haven setting.

Denise reports that something that other people find interesting is something that she is really embarrassed about – the production each year is organic, not done from a script. She had always wanted to be fully prepared, organized, with things plotted out ahead of time. Yet she has become convinced that KITS works because she allows her creative energy to engage with the people and the needs she sees before her. The overall program has also evolved in the same organic way. She noticed that kids wanted to return year after year but were becoming teens, so she responded to the needs of the kids and the families by creating a youth interning process for them.


That youth intern process has now evolved into the new Youth Leadership Diploma program and with its launch in the summer 2010, Denise is seeing the culmination of one of her dreams. When asked what her next challenge might be, she thought of two. The first is to take KITS to other countries. A team of youth interns is currently working on this project with Denise as the stay-at-home coach – and all are very excited. The second is to expand into other, as yet unspecified, courses. Exciting for a different group of folk!

Denise describes the magic of KITS as follows: “When you have a certain kind of contact with another person, so much can happen – beyond what you have imagined.” She points out that the mixture of ages is a benefit. “I don’t know how to contact the five-year-old but an eight-year-old might be able to, and I can make contact with the eight-year-old through the 15-year-old who relates well with me. The mixture of ages allows for a resonating group of souls in the circle – even with the developmental gap. That’s neat. People want that [resonance] and want to learn to be present and have that experience again and again.” We agree; this is the magic of Kids in the Spotlight.

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