Celebrating 20 years of ‘guild’ trips

By: Elizabeth Scussel | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 25, 2013

From puppets to poetry and folk songs to fairy tales, the StoryTellers Guild is pulling out all the stops to bring smiles to the faces of local children.

In April, the Birmingham-based nonprofit is inviting the public to celebrate its 20-year anniversary.

The guild, founded by the late Helen Southgate Williams, promotes literacy and storytelling in classrooms around metro Detroit. Their mission is to enrich the lives of children through art and storytelling.

The StoryTellers have monthly meetings, guest speakers and luncheons. From September to June, volunteer readers from the guild visit children in Oak Park, Warren, Hazel Park, Pontiac, Southfield, Ferndale, Madison Heights and Royal Oak, as well as at Beaumont Hospital. The readers use an assortment of outlets to entertain the children.

“Everyone does their own thing,” said Eileen Britsky. “They sing songs, they recite poetry, they use puppets — we show our personality in what we share.”

Britsky, of Troy, is a retired elementary school teacher and council chair for the StoryTellers Guild. She has also been an active reader for four years, and her passion runs deep.

“I love being in the classroom, and the children just get so excited,” Britsky said. “It’s the feedback from the kids that motivates me — it’s the sparkle in their eyes — they get this extra little moment in their days, and it’s the best part of my day.”

On April 11, the StoryTellers Guild will host a fundraising luncheon at The Community House, located at 380 S. Bates St. in Birmingham, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is a combined celebration of the 20-year anniversary of the StoryTellers Guild and a 30-year anniversary for the Mazza Museum.

Mazza, located in Findlay, Ohio, is the first and largest teaching gallery in the world that specializes in children’s art and houses original artwork by the most distinguished and honored illustrators of children’s books. All artwork at the museum has either been donated or purchased through sponsorships.

Mazza Museum Director Benjamin Sapp will be in attendance, along with author and illustrator Wong Herbert Lee. The luncheon will feature raffle drawings and a book sale. Proceeds from the event will be used to purchase library books for classrooms visited by guild members.

Linda Wilson, of Beverly Hills, also a retired schoolteacher, has been an active reader for seven years, and it’s the love of the children that keeps her going. Wilson reads twice a month to first-grade classrooms in Oak Park.

“I leave the classroom absolutely exhausted — and absolutely fulfilled,” she said. “I think what keeps us all involved is the love of children and the love of literature.”

Each year, the guild donates hundreds of books to classrooms and libraries in local schools. Books are purchased with donations from fundraisers, foundations and individuals.

Currently, the club has 30 active storytellers, and more than 100 members and volunteers. Wilson said the guild comprises a variety of volunteers with many different backgrounds.

The guild is always looking for new volunteers and readers, Wilson said. They also offer programs that educate and train volunteers who work in the classrooms. It’s not just a group of retired schoolteachers, said reader Cindy Casey, of Clarkston.

“We have librarians, Realtors, people in marketing — anyone with a love for
children,” she said. “We are a bright light for these children. The classrooms have such a controlled curriculum, and we get to come in and bring joy to their faces. It’s a truly wonderful experience.”

Reservations for the luncheon must be made by April 5. To make reservations, call (248) 554-6594. For more information on the StoryTellers Guild, visit www.tchserves.org.