Unleashing Storytellers in a Pandemic

In a time where we crave human connection and sink deeper into quarantine, some organizations have been able to bring people together in spectacular ways.

Story Works, a Pride Foundation Community Grant recipient in Alaska, continuously works to bring youth together, build human connections, and unleash the storyteller in everyone. More than ever, connection is essential, especially given that youth no longer have physical interactions with peers or teachers in education settings.

Normally, Story Works partners with educators and youth to hold classroom-based Story Workshops: safe, inclusive spaces where community volunteers and youth alumni of the program work with high school students to instill a culture of storytelling and empower each individual to tell their personal story. As we see a shift in education due to COVID-19, however, Story Works has had to reevaluate how to best engage with students who are isolated at home. To this end, they have gotten creative and created virtual safe spaces where youth can tell their stories.

I had the amazing fortune to participate in one of Story Works’ first virtual Story Circles, held in partnership with Sarah Richmond at the Alaska Humanities Forum, and it was both engaging and enlightening. I was one of about twelve participants, mostly adult community members and educators, who had signed up to tell stories and learn how to facilitate a Story Circle of their own and further engage with youth in our respective communities. Facilitated by Story Works alumni who had previously participated in Story Workshops, the Story Circle created an inclusive environment for everyone, where each of us was empowered to tell personal stories pertaining to ways that we have learned, grown, survived, and felt joy, grief, or humility in troubled times. All in just two minutes each. We shared, responded to each other, and created unseen connections, even though we’d been a group of 12 complete strangers just one hour before.

Times like these have opened our eyes to how much we crave social interaction. Story Works is breaking down the boundaries that the pandemic has created and is empowering people, especially youth, to tell stories, create social circles with loved ones, or even strangers, and build spaces of sharing and connection, even if it isn’t in person.

Destiny Ropati, one of the alumni facilitators, believes that “Story Circles are a way of gaining new perspectives, valuable connections, and positive vibes by virtually connecting during an ongoing pandemic,” especially when we’re all lacking human interaction.

Regan Brooks, Co-Founder of Story Works, is proud to see youth facilitators playing a key role in leading the Story Circles. “It has been wonderful to see Story Works alumni come together to build community and connection in this time of need,” she said. “The youth facilitators have been amazing and are playing a crucial role in making the format work for both youth and educators.”

As a participant, I was deeply appreciative of the connection I had with these twelve strangers, just for an hour. Not only Alaskans, and not only youth, but every individual is in need of a little more connection these days—and Story Works and the Alaska Humanities Forum are working in strides to allow us all that experience.

If you know youth in Alaska who would like to participate in a free Story Circle run by Story Works alumni and learn how to run a Story Circle of their own, they can register here.

Adults interested in attending a free Story Circle and Story Circle training (led by youth facilitators) can learn more and register for the April 28th Story Circle and training here or sign up to learn about future Story Circles and trainings here.


Note: The Alaska Humanities Forum is a partner on this project and the story circle format is inspired by a project called the People’s State of the Union (supported by The US Department of Arts and Culture). 

Chance Wilcox is Pride Foundation’s Regional Philanthropy Officer in Alaska.

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