Willie and WhyArts Executive Director Kim Jubenville and a four-footed Willie, Kim’s puppy. (This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Kim Jubenville and Willie have been friends for years. They connect on an almost cellular level through a shared love of music, storytelling and – above all – the stage.

Jubenville is the executive director of WhyArts, an Omaha nonprofit dedicated to providing a diverse array of quality arts experiences to the metro’s underserved groups. Willie is a consumer in Vodec’s Elm Program, which was founded in 2003 to provide stimulating, progressive activities for adults with multiple disabilities.

The two met and grew to appreciate each other at WhyArts workshops during the past five years. Elm is based out of Vodec’s Omaha development center. “I’m sure I met Willie early on, but it took me a while to realize what a treasure he is,” said Jubenville, also a local actor. “In the beginning, we did a lot of large group work in Elm where we engaged everyone in the same activity, and we did a lot of visual arts activities,” she said.

WhyArts then decided to alternate its visual arts workshops at Vodec with music and storytelling to see if it had an effect on the level of consumer engagement. “The reaction was a big ‘aha’ for us,” Jubenville said. “Of course people react differently to different opportunities – we just needed to get to know the consumers better.”

Several years back, Jubenville planned to lead a music session in Elm – complete with instruments and other supplies – but after she had everything set up, the CD player wouldn’t work. Read the rest of the story, in her own words, below.

Suddenly I had to go to Plan B, so I started to weave a story. Willie rolled up and wanted a part – if I remember correctly, it was the big bad wolf from “The Three Little Pigs.” At first I was nervous about not being able to understand Willie’s speech, but he was so patient with me and had such a good sense of humor that the workshop ended up being a big success.

Eventually Willie offered to lead a story with me as his narrator. Then we added music, and the productions got more elaborate. Our last production of “The Lion King” starred my new puppy (also named Willie) as Baby Simba.

Willie has starred, spun and shared many stories over the years with the Elm group, and it’s given the other consumers more trust in participating with us. Willie is highly gifted, and I’m not kidding you, he understands Joseph Campbell’s classic “The Hero’s Journey” at a graduate level. He’s sharp and sassy and definitely not short winded!

I look forward to sharing a lot more stories with my Elm buddies.

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