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Jenny Oakes, from left, Marla Kalin and Mark Holtan play a group of students laughing at the expense of a fellow student in a skit performed Friday by the Friend2Friend troupe from West Central Industries during a class at the Willmar Middle School. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Friend2Friend acting troupe lightens the mood to talk about getting help

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WILLMAR -- Dan Eggen's stomach growled and grumbled, disturbing his classmates while they were trying to finish a math quiz.

The others started giggling. Then they started passing notes and laughing out loud.

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When teacher Denise Deaner intercepted a note, she made a student read it aloud. It was about the stomach sounding like the boy was "digesting an antelope."

The boy wiped at his eyes while his classmates laughed.

But then a girl pointed out that one of the other students was unhappy with his new glasses, another with her zits and another with her frizzy hair.

Everyone is different, the teacher said, and the boy couldn't help it that he had NBS -- Noisy Belly Syndrome.

Of course, NBS doesn't exist, and the math quiz wasn't real, either. But the message was.

The Friend2Friend troupe performed a series of comedy skits for middle school students in the area last week in observance of Mental Health Awareness month. The skits were also written locally.

Friday morning, they were in Willmar, performing for teacher Mary Hanson's health classes. It's OK to laugh at the skits, Hanson said, "however, there are some serious parts, and you need to listen to them, too."

The skits were sometimes silly, but they used the humor to illustrate some important truths for young people -- that no one's life is perfect, everyone has problems, and help is available for anyone who wants it.

Another skit featured Angie Kettner as a young woman walking a tight rope trying to balance the demands of school, family and friends. The other players crowded around her, representing pressure, guilt, loneliness and fear. In the end, she was rescued by someone offering help.

Players Marla Kalin and Mark Holtan were swimmers, displaying their best strokes behind a blue sheet labeled "Life Challenges." The sheet was decorated with illustrations of the challenges many young people face: a broken heart, the words "Divorce" and "Zits," and a tombstone labeled "RIP Fluffy."

As the swimmers struggled, they were offered lifesavers. But they decided that only losers ask for help, and they kept swimming.

Eventually, Holtan stopped struggling and sank to the floor behind the sheet. Kalin then grabbed a lifesaver. Player Jenny Oakes looked down at Holtan's figure under the blue sheet and said, "What a waste; he should have let me help him."

The favorite skit among students, a take-off of an old "Twilight Zone" episode, involved a visit to the office of Dr. Hackenstitch. Oakes was tired of not fitting in and was there for her surgery. "I see why you're here," the nurse said. When her surgery was over, Oakes said, "Now I look just like everybody else," as the players turned to reveal their identical dog noses.

The players spent some time talking with the students about the skits and the importance of seeking help to cope with problems. Oakes urged the students to "be who you are; love who you are."

Kalin walked through the classroom, pointing at individual students and saying, "You, you are valuable."

She explained that "when I say you're valuable, it means you make a difference in the world, and the world would be a much sadder place without you."

Kalin passed out brochures with information on how to get help with depression or stress and suggestions for how to talk to friends who are hurting. They urged kids to talk to school counselors, teachers, pastors or other trusted adults if they needed help coping with life's pressures.

After the presentation, Hanson said she believed her students were learning from the presentations. "Mental health is a big issue," she said.

The troupe is part of the Friend2Friend program at West Central Industries' The Resource Center Program.

Kalin wrote the original script, and the actors worked together to develop the final version.

"We want to make kids think and to teach them how to be friends to others and how to be friends to themselves," Kalin said last week. "The whole point is to teach them there's nothing wrong in asking for help."

For more information, go to www.westcentralindustries.com/trcp or call 320-235-1150.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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