Friday, March 12, 2021

John Kenefick & ReggieRoo: A Robot With A Heart Of... Cardboard?

At first glance, John Kenefick may appear more “outside-of-the-box street performer,” and less “conventional artist.” Using recycled paper products (did we mention that he’s unconventional?), this passionate people-person uses his artistic talents to create what he calls “Companion Robots.” Animated and life-sized, John’s cardboard companions are easy to spot as they hitch a ride on the back of his power wheelchair. Together, they bring joy to the people of St. Pete. And in a life before COVID-19, they could usually be found around the country, frequenting John’s favorite music festivals.

Creating these robots has helped John to learn more about himself, and to become more comfortable with his spinal cord injury. Now his favorite form of “therapy,” John describes that these Companion Robots have changed his own perspective on life, as well as his notions of disability, “These creations are helping me adapt, in a positive and uplifting way, to my spinal cord injuries. They help me to feel safe and protected because they stand up right behind me and protect my head and shoulders. And it’s a fun way to interact with people!”


In 2002, after sustaining multiple injuries to his spinal cord, John was new to the world of disability. At first, he had a difficult time coping with his injuries, which included: chronic pain, loss of mobility, and mental health strain. All of this changed when a random event transformed his life. In 2017, he saw a puppeteer who was accompanied by a Cardboard Companion that was sticking out of her backpack. This puppet’s name was Reggie, and it was at least fifteen feet tall. Seeing this stranger gave John a strong desire to have a Reggie of his own. After a bit of tinkering, he figured out how to carry the creation on the back of his manual wheelchair. The next year, his Reggie accompanied him to the Bonnaroo Music Festival, gaining some popularity and the nickname ReggieRoo. Every year after that, John, ReggieRoo, as well as several other Cardboard Companion Robots, frequented both Bonnaroo (www.bonnaroo.com) and Coachella (https://coachella.com/ada). 


In 2017, John started this journey by volunteering, working, and attending music festivals with his daughter. While he began this work to help others and make them smile, access to backstage passes certainly sweetened the deal. But how did John intend to brighten the day of his fellow concert-goers? For starters, he worked with Bonnaroo’s Accessibility Department, where he helped those with disabilities by providing sign-language interpreters, coordinating ADA shuttle service to each stage, and helping to arrange accessible camping spots for attendees with disabilities. These locations were located just a few yards from the festival’s entrance.


Before he began toting around his cardboard buddies, John felt slightly disconnected from people. Even though he began building these Cardboard Companion Robots for himself, John quickly realized that they were much more than that. In fact, they started gaining attention from people outside of his frequented music festivals. When strangers would see him on the street, John noticed a significant change in the way that they interacted with him. Instead of giving a quick nod or wave before moving on, more people actually started to approach him. Before John knew it, strangers were taking pictures, smiling, talking, and laughing with him. To him, the importance of his robots lies in their ability to create a “connection” and “pathway” between himself and the general public. In an irony that hasn’t eluded us, John believes that his robots help others to see him as a “fellow human being.”


Whenever he isn’t working on his Cardboard Companion Robots, John spends his time helping to coordinate music festivals. Before he began working with Laura Grunfeld, the founder of "Everyone's Invited" and leader of Bonnaroo's Access Department, John hadn’t thought too much about the effort that goes into creating accessible, outdoor spaces. He quickly learned that the “Everyone’s Invited” team has a deep understanding and passion for inclusion and accessibility. Their dedication has helped them to find creative solutions, which has helped to greatly improve access for their patrons with disabilities. In addition, Laura has also worked with a number of prestigious events and festivals, including: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Bonnaroo, The Governor’s Ball, Outside Lands, Electric Forest, TomorrowWold, and Firefly. Needless to say: John is in good company.


Currently, Bonnaroo is set to take place September 2-5, 2021. Unfortunately, these dates may change because of COVID-19, so make sure to check the status of the festival as September gets closer. John has extended an open invitation for our WheelieGoodLifers to attend with him. If you’d like to learn more about Bonnarroo, or Laura Grunfeld’s “Everyone’s Invited, LLC,” please click here. You can also email Laura at: access@bonnaroo.com. And if you are interested in attending Bonnaroo, please make sure to arrange your Accessible Camping Accommodations as soon as possible.

Lastly, if you’d like to create a Reggie of your own, John has provided us with everything that you’ll need. You can easily create your Cardboard Companion from recycled cardboard, toilet paper rolls, tissue paper, and yarn. All you need is some paint, glue, and a bit of imagination. When you create your Cardboard Companion, please share it with us! Email us pictures of yourself and your robot. We just may feature you on our Facebook Page or website.


Materials Needed to Make Your Own “Cardboard Companion RooBot” or “Mini-Bot” (Note that the “Mini-Bot” is quicker and easier to make)

  1. At least one (1) Toilet Paper Roll (without any toilet paper on the roll)

  2. Several sheets of Tissue Paper or Decorative Paper, which will be used to paper mache/decorate your “Mini-Bot”

  3. Wheat Paste

  4. Paint Brushes

  5. Masking Tape

  6. Uncooked Rice

  7. Acrylic paint set


Step-By-Step Instructions:

SQUARE BOTS
  • One Toilet Paper Roll makes 2 Mini-Bots


1) Take your Toilet Paper Roll and cut it into 2 halves.
2) Change the round tubes into square tubes.
    • First, make crease marks (see photo) on top and bottom of the rolls by slightly flattening the tubes. Flatten just enough to see where the creases for the two corners are (mark those two creases). Do this on the Top and the Bottom of the Toilet Paper Roll.

    • Second, make the other creases needed for the two other corners (mark those two creases). Just like before, flatten only enough to see where the creases are for the two new corners that you’ve made. Do this on the Top and the Bottom of the Toilet Paper Roll. Now, we have a TP Roll that’s Square not Round.

3) Next you will make identical size/length cuts on each of the creases.
    • Make four, identical-sized cuts on the top and bottom or your Toilet Paper Rolls, which are now in the shape of squares. What you’ve created is a miniature sized cardboard box.

4) Now, fold your Box Top and Bottom
5) Before you seal them shut with masking tape, put uncooked rice inside your boxes. Then, seal it shut.
6) Cut your decorating paper into manageable sizes.
7) Take your paint brush and dip it in the wheat paste. Use a light coat of it on the Mini-Bot and the paper. Apply the paper to the Mini-Bot. Repeat this process as many times as you’d like.
8) Allow it to air dry. To make the drying process quicker, use a hairdryer.
9) The final touch is painting.


Authors:
Mary Carol Peterson
















Kyle Romano
















Edited by:
Kyle Romano

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John Kenefick & ReggieRoo: A Robot With A Heart Of... Cardboard?

At first glance, John Kenefick may appear more “outside-of-the-box street performer,” and less “conventional artist.” Using recycled paper p...