Cap’s Off to You!–Kathy Palermo and Celebrating Story

Kathy PalermoMost people see the results of Kathy Palermo’s work and do not know to whom to give thanks.  Kathy keeps the details to herself so I had to do much sleuthing.  She is a mystery who will remain unsolved, though I know enough about her to be satisfied in not knowing everything.  What is most important is her incredible dedication to the art of storytelling.

Contribution to Storytelling Community
At this time, the National Youth Storytelling is connected with the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in Utah.  This event used to be in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee originally named the National Youth Storytelling Olympics (NYSO) and three years of its existence was in the Hanford/Lemoore/Fresno area of California.

Kathy Palermo practically co-chaired the the National Youth Storytelling Olympics with  Kevin Cordi.  Kathy’s portion of the load was phenomenal.  First of all, she trained her high school storytelling troupe, the Lemoore Tellers, to be mentors for the youth Olympic  finalists.  She taught the Lemoore Tellers and the NYSO finalists some storytelling games that, most likely, are still played by former finalists.

Sometimes the Lemoore Tellers did not have rides to participate in all the events connected with NYSO.  Kathy noted who these students were and offered rides so all felt welcomed.  No one knows the miles she has put on her vehicle through the years.  Even Kathy would not know.  What has been observed is that the youth always filed out of her van with smiles on their faces and energy in their strides, as their conversations with Kathy must have inspired the enthusiasm.

Kathy partnered with community groups to put on the Lemoore High School Barbecue, a tradition extended to the NYSO finalists and their families.

One year we had a NYSO finalist who needed a wheelchair at the event but did not know where to get one.  Kathy quickly volunteered a wheelchair that she had at her ranch.  She apologized to the youth that it was not an electric one.  Even when Kathy gives to others, she wishes to give more.  The youth smiled and let Kathy know that she was glad she could roll on stage rather than hobbling to the center.

Before the NYSO finalists graced the stage, however, Kathy did her best to train a couple youth from the Lemoore Tellers to be emcees for the event. She aimed for her youth to give short, quick introductions with punch.  She expected her youth to practice the scripts for at least an hour so that the names of the NYSO finalists were pronounced correctly and that there was a natural rhythm.  Otherwise, some emcees have little to no preparation.  Emcees have a direct influence to the concert and Kathy shared this belief
with her youth.

Every year she sent a Letter to Board of Trustees about the community service done by the Lemoore Tellers in regards to their service with NYSO. She made no mention to herself despite the inspiration she provided for the youth.

Kathy, as active member of the Voices of the Valley Storytelling Guild, inspired other guild members to participate in NYSO.

Contribution to National Storytelling Network
For several years, Kathy was a Board Member for the Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance that is now simply called Youth, Educators, and Storytellers. She dislikes email and technology such as conference calls, yet she overcomes these feelings and
accomplishes the assignments asked.

Her ability to share storytelling within the curriculum earned her the honor of workshop presenter at the 2006 National Storytelling YES! Pre-Conference.  After her presentation, she created a website specially to help other educators translate ideas to lesson plans that included storytelling.  She commented, “People from the education community want to learn how to tell.  They need lessons!”

One of NSN’s well-established programs, Tellabration!, had great influence upon Kathy as she was the first one to have a student-run one in the country.  Even today, she has one of the largest-attended youth Tellabration!.  Kevin Cordi mentioned that if it wasn’t for Kathy’s model, that his own student-run Tellabration! would not have been as successful. For many years, Kathy and Kevin combined efforts and the Lemoore High School and the Hanford High School created quite the show.

Yes, this was a while back, though I got to attend the 2006 Tellabration that Kathy’s students used the theme of “First Jobs—On Our Own”.  Students shared stories of jobs they held in fast food, outdoor jobs, and odd jobs.  Personal and family tales were encouraged as Kathy reflected, “[The students] had a blast.  We created interview questions for parents and grandparents.  We had one little girl sing as part of her story to welcome her step-father into the family.”

In the end, Kathy admitted, “I can give them guidance, but [the youth] are the ones finding the stories.”

Contribution to Local Community
Beyond Tellabration!, Kathy ran the Arne Nixon Student Storytelling Festival, which would have celebrated its 25th year on March 28, 2020 before the historic lockdown throughout the world. I had the honor of being part of this event for 16 of those 25 years by mentoring her students and teaching teachers how to use storytelling in the classroom in all subjects.  With permission from the Estate of Arne Nixon, the event started as a competition rather than a festival.  The youth divided into small groups.  Each group had an adult mentor who evaluated the performances with positive comments.  The youth were evaluated though never judged.  Afterwards, the youth shared their stories for the public on the University of California—Fresno campus.

To reward the youth for their progress in storytelling, Kathy saw that there were plenty of volunteers to provide refreshments as well as the traditional pizza party.  She extended invitations to the youth of many schools including Kings Christian, University Middle School and Hanford West High School.  Even college classes came from her efforts.

Kathy always wished to see more kids involved in the Arne Nixon event rather than focus on the competition.  She understood the need for competition to reach out to the youth, though she brainstormed ways that could be as powerful to attract the youth.

When the National Youth Storytelling Olympics returned to Tennessee, the Arne Nixon event added afternoon workshop sessions for educators of all grades.  The workshops focused on how storytelling can meet the curriculum standards.  Kathy often said to the teachers, “Storytelling is part of who we are.  Voice, body, mind, imagination—those are our instruments.  We perform every day.”

Some of the many people affected by Kathy Palermo’s work on the Arne Nixon Student Storytelling Festival are the following:  Laurie Goodman, Randel McGee, Ted Esquivel,  Terrance McArthur and Rick Rossiter as well as the youth.  Many Voices of the Valley Storytelling Guild members say that Arne Nixon touched the Education Department and the Madden Library of Fresno State and anyone in the Visalia Library.  When Kathy upheld his memory through this event, she has touched the same people.

Kathy’s Work has expanded Public Awareness of Storytelling. Whenever Kathy teaches one of her storytelling classes at the Lemoore High School, she has increased the awareness of storytelling.  Part of her class includes service with the surrounding  schools, senior centers, and many other community venues.  Some of her students do not
understand the class until the volunteer work.  One time, her students told at SCI-CON  (Science Conference) that focused on the environment.  Besides telling scary stories and hiking stories, they taught games that the people could use.

She has little administration support from the school as well as a small budget.  Mainly from her funds, she has added to the storytelling collection at her high school.  She laughed when she told me that often her kids go the Lemoore High School Library before going to the public library.

Kathy, when thinking of her students, said, “[The students] think [the class] is an easy A, but they really have to work a performance.  A lot of my kids like to write in third-person.  It’s great if they use dialogue and other storytelling elements.  Otherwise, it’s too bland.”

Low income is prevalent among many of her migrant students.  Again, she has often given students money to attend storytelling events or other storytelling privileges.

California still experiences bad economy and many school programs are stripped.  Yet, Kathy’s class has been amplified in her school due to the direct connection to literacy.
She has had several calls from the California Bay area to start storytelling programs during school time.

At a time when art programs are being cut, the word about Kathy’s work in Lemoore has spread.  Twenty-three California State Universities and ten Universities of California accept Storytelling as an English elective for college admittance.  Only Kathy can be credited with such a fantastic response from the community.

Kathy’s Originality and Preservation of Storytelling as Traditional Art Form
Time, money, and sleep are all things Kathy is willing to give to others, including myself.  Though Kathy had an early morning flight to return to California and had to wake up by 4:30am, she attended the 2006 National Storytelling Conference “Academics Can Tell, Too” concert, which started at 9:30pm.  She came to support me and willingly gave up sleep to cheer me on. I know she does this same feat for anyone who she knows is in need of support.

To this day, she offers her services to promote storytelling around the world.

Please join in the celebration of her continued work.

So toss, tip, or take off your cap to Kathy Palermo!

Remember, Story Crossroads also have year-round events such as the house concerts to be transitioned into live/virtual with limited-seating and proper distancing.  We are also in countdown to our Story Crossroads Spectacular-virtual  experience on May 13, 2020.  Give back to Story Crossroads by donating through the #GivingTuesday Facebook Fundraiser from May 5, 2020 to May 19, 2020.

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