For nearly a decade, Barb Partlow has been using her Puppets of Praise to engage youths at Gender Road Christian Church while entertaining and teaching audiences of all ages.

For nearly a decade, Barb Partlow has been using her Puppets of Praise to engage youths at Gender Road Christian Church while entertaining and teaching audiences of all ages.

"Puppets of Praise is focused on the youth, with the junior high and high school-aged kids mainly," she said. "The thing I like about puppets is that they really reach out to people of all ages. I get even bigger smiles from the adults in the congregation."

Partlow began the Puppets of Praise group more than nine years ago after a few similar traveling groups presented puppet ministries at the church, 5336 Gender Road.

The church draws its congregation from Reynoldsburg, Pickerington, Bexley, and the East Side of Columbus as well as the Canal Winchester and Groveport areas.

"We saw two different groups that came to our church to perform, and I was really drawn to the puppets," Partlow said. "So for two or three years, I felt this calling and eventually one year, I bought my son, and then my nephew, and then my daughter each a puppet. So our first performance was just us."

She said her lack of experience was overcome by her desire to make the ministry work. She also received a lot of help from others.

"I knew nothing about (puppetry), and I still feel somewhat inadequate, but I love it. I started this up but I learned really quick that I can't do it myself," Partlow said. "I have several other adults that are part of this, along with the kids, to help make this happen. It takes a good group of people to keep this in line and we're all about praising God."

The group uses a variety of puppets, some of which are full-body size and some that are smaller and can be managed by younger participants. Partlow writes most of the group's material.

"I write most of our skits, and we mainly perform stories and songs at our church," Partlow said. "I like to focus my skits toward helping the youth, but it always reaches out to all ages because we all experience these situations in life. Our songs vary from quartet pieces to rock-band type material."

Many of the participants would otherwise be too shy to perform in front of an audience if it weren't for the puppets, Partlow said. Last year's focus on bullying created a lot of interest and involvement, she said.

"Every kid can relate to bullying and so a lot of kids flocked to wanting to be involved," she said. "This group is a ministry within itself. Kids I can't get to participate in doing things in front of the church will help with this because they can be behind the curtain and puppets.

"So kids that aren't active will become active through this," she noted. "Not only are they spreading God's word, but they're receiving a gift by being involved as part of the group."

Members of the group don't just minister to their own church; they also take an annual trip to the Dogwood Valley Campground outside of Mt. Gilead to provide a Sunday service for other campers.

"Our new pastor (the Rev. John Romig) likes us to try and perform for the church once a month or so," Partlow said. "We will be at Dogwood Valley July 15. That offers us a chance to perform for people vacationing up there during their Sunday service."