“A friend was doing standup at an open mic night at Wiley’s so I tried it, practiced and got better.” Now, Carpenter has regular comedy gigs on the weekends, often traveling to Columbus or Cincinnati. “Comedy is a real icebreaker and a release for pain – I use my life and mother, a schizophrenic, in my acts – being funny about serious things really helps.”
Recurring themes come from domestic violence and an eating addiction. “My mom started and always won a lot of fights, and she was starving me – I was malnourished when I was taken from her in ’78, so close to death that I spent two weeks in the hospital. As a result, in foster homes, I stole food – instead of cookies from the cookie jar, I’d take the whole jar. And it didn’t stop when I left foster care. At 35, I weighed almost 400 pounds, so started lifting weights and dieting – now I weigh between 175-180, and use a lot of weight stories in my comedy.”
When the county downsized and Carpenter lost his job with adults, “I knew I wanted to work with kids. Northmont had an opening for a paraprofessional to work with emotional and learning disabilities at the high school, so I applied and have been here for the past six years. I enjoy helping the children, and although I don’t try to make them laugh, the comedy helps – it’s an icebreaker with the kids, and they feel comfortable with me.”
Several times a year, he’s invited to other classrooms to do motivational speeches. “I always add humor, and just talk to them about myself and my experiences, being funny about serious things.”
Susan Webb, Northmont City Schools’ Secondary Special Education Supervisor, says that “Kenny is the best – he brings humor to the students, and a common personality. Many of our students have also had setbacks in their lives, and he relates to that.
“In addition to working with mainly one teacher’s class, he’s spoken to the student body as a whole, and helps students and staff to realize that we never know what others have been through. He’s a role model for students in the classroom and the building as a whole.”
Carpenter’s past problems with food make him acutely aware of food deprivation among students, and Webb noted that he delivers food from the school’s pantry to families, not just for the holidays, but whenever there’s a family in need.
“The kids make me realize how far I’ve come because of the same things they’ve come through,” says Carpenter. “I realize this is what I should be doing.”
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Northmont paraprofessional Kenny Carpenter helps a student check the steps of an algebra problem as classroom instructor Jessica Pahl takes the class through a multi-step problem. CONTRIBUTED