Destination Imagination! Destination Knoxville!

The name Destination Imagination says it all. This volunteer organization’s mission is to teach kids the creative process while working with a team to develop a solution to a problem. The teams may choose a challenge from a series of topics: technical, scientific, engineering, fine arts, improvisational, and service learning. Additionally, there is a Rising Stars! program for pre-school through second grade that is non-competitive. The teams compete at a local and state level, culminating in the annual Global Finals tournament. This year, there are three – yes, you read it correctly, three! – Tri-Town teams heading to the Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee on May 24.

Going to Global Finals is no small feat for the teams. Not only do they need to excel at their regional and state tournaments, but they also must raise the funds to travel to the site of the final tournament.

Each of the local winning teams will be fundraising over the next month to offset the cost of the trip, which can be as much as $1,400 per participant. The teams pay for registration, lodging, and food at the University of Tennessee campus, in addition to their travel costs and shipping of sets and props.

Sarah Cecil is the team manager for the Lightning Bolts, a group of seven fifth-graders from Rochester Memorial School, which chose a Fine Arts challenge for their project. The team placed first among three teams at the regional tournament at Dennis Yarmouth High School, and tied for second place at the state finals at Worcester Polytechnic Institute against nine other teams.

This is the third year the team has competed together, and Cecil says she just stands back and lets them work.

“They have all learned to work well together; they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Cecil. “If someone is melting down or struggling, someone else will help bring them back to the project.”

The participants develop their project entirely on their own, and there are no wrong solutions or ideas. It is an open-ended process, Cecil added.

“It’s thinking outside the box. The kids can make it whatever they want it to be; it’s driven entirely by them,” Cecil said.

The team developed an eight-minute presentation in which they were to pick a color and determine its meaning and make one element of the story disappear. The team chose the color red, and wrote a story in which the meaning of the color – anger – was illustrated through the impact of its disappearance from a fictional town on the town’s inhabitants.

The team was required to develop the characters, costumes, set and lighting, all to further the plot of their story. One of the Lightening Bolts team members Eva Hartley told Cecil, “[I] like Destination Imagination most because it gives me the opportunity to do things and try stuff that I didn’t think I could do before.” Most recently, Hartley was using a power saw to cut plywood, a task she may not have tried on her own.

Sometimes parents are puzzled by the idea that there are no wrong answers in solving the challenges, but it appears the kids’ creativity thrives under these conditions – Tri-Town teams have made it to the global finals four times over the past five years.

The DI Dazzlers (and sparkle) is a team of sixth and seventh-grade Rochester students, which recently won their regional and state competitions against seven other teams in their age group, to qualify for the Global Finals. The team meets weekly all winter to develop and create their project.

DI Dazzlers (and sparkle) team manager Jennifer Hunter underscored the value of participating in the program.

“It’s a great way to build relationships and work together as a team,” said Hunter. “My daughter isn’t the sports type, so this is a great alternative and still allows her to work as a part of a team.”

The team chose the engineering challenge, in which they were charged with designing and building a load-bearing structure using only balsa wood and glue. Their creation, at less than nine inches tall and weighing no more than 50 grams, at the state tournament successfully held 530 pounds before breaking.

Team member Emma Jones described her dedication to the program when she said, “I love Destination Imagination because it gives me a chance to use my imagination and creativity in order to solve problems. I am able to work together with my teammates to solve challenges that I might not ever try on my own.”

Hunter said being part of Destination Imagination “builds great character and helps make [the participants] so well rounded.”

The veteran Destination Imagination team H Squared is heading to the Global Finals this year for the third time. This close-knit team, made up of three sophomores and two juniors from Old Rochester Regional High School, has been working together for four years, with two of the members having been on the same team together for the last eight years.

Team manager Tina Rood has been managing the team since its inception. She also is the coordinator for the district, working to recruit new participants and team managers.

Rood’s co-manager for the team, Dr. Kerry Bowman, passed away last summer, and Bowman’s family created a fund to help ensure that the Tri-Town Destination Imagination program continued to expand and succeed.

The H Squared team chose the Fine Arts challenge, researched the meaning of a color, and developed an original story in which the color disappeared. As Rood described it, the love story centered on a cartoonist who suffered from unrequited love and in response made the color red disappear from his cartoons.

The team developed costumes and sets for the story, and won a Renaissance Award for the non-human element of the story: a pencil that functioned as the narrator.

The Renaissance Award is given in recognition of excellence and extraordinary effort in engineering, design or performance.

The team was given additional accolades at the regional tournament, receiving the Spirit of DI award, which Rood says was given “in honor of the team’s perseverance this year.”

Rood extolled the values of the Destination Imagination commitment, saying, “We get to the end of the year, and we see what these teams have created, and we say wow! And then when we start again next year, we ask how can we do it again, and the kids do – and it’s better than last year!”

Teams begin working on their challenges in October and work through March of the following year, working weekends and school vacations, putting in an incredible amount of time with their teams to develop their solution to the chosen challenge.

It can be overwhelming for new team managers, Rood noted, and as the district coordinator she works with other veteran team managers to mentor new recruits, helping the managers through the process and guiding them on how to best facilitate their team’s efforts.

“Once you get bitten by the bug, you say to yourself, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to do this again!’”

Going to the regional, state, and Global Finals is a reward for a year of hard work. Teams have become experts in their particular challenge, and by going to the tournaments they get to see teams from all over their state, and ultimately from throughout the country and the world, present unique solutions from a whole different perspective.

“There are as many unique solutions as there are teams,” Rood said.

Each of the three Tri-Town teams will be hosting fundraising events throughout April and May to ease the financial burden to the participants. Also, donors have the opportunity to “Flamingo Flock” a friend or neighbor. From now until May 20, for a donation of $20, a flock of 20 flamingos will visit the front yard for 24 hours of a person of the donor’s choosing. For information about these or future events, call Lightning Bolts team manager Sarah Cecil at 508-322-0226.

The DI Dazzlers (and sparkle) team has a GoFundMe page: They also will be hosting a raffle with prizes from local businesses, and other community-based fundraisers, such as a car wash on Saturday, May 13, from 9:00 am – 1:00 pm at the Mattapoisett Fire Station. The team has set up a Youcaring Compassionate Crowdfunding page at The H Squared team will also be collecting donations through direct solicitation in front of local businesses.

Donations for each of the teams can be made directly to Destination Imagination, Inc. at 1111 South Union Avenue, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002 Attn. GF Donation Dept. Make checks payable to Destination Imagination and include the team number on the check: DI Dazzlers #119-30259; Lightning Bolts #119-58196; H Squared #119-89977. Donations are tax deductible if made before May 1.

Hunter’s daughter Isabella reflected on her team’s achievement: “I do DI because it allows me to use my imagination and I enjoy performing. This year has been incredible. I never thought we would make it this far. I can’t wait for Globals!”

By Sarah French Storer

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