My love for storytelling started back in South Mountain Elementary School. When I was eight years old I asked Miss Mersfelder when we would be having Show & Tell.
Her answer: “We don’t do that in 3rd grade.” I was bummed.
Twenty years later, when my husband and I were arrested for having amassed $1,500 worth of unpaid parking tickets, I thought to myself, “This will make a great story!” So I wrote it. It was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sunday magazine.
In my almost 40 years in communications and nonprofit management, I’ve heard and told many stories. I’ve discovered people are motivated to become involved, contribute time and money, after hearing stories that inspire them.
An inspiration for my work came from Story Corps, – the national oral histories project you hear on NPR every Friday morning. Jack and I visited a story booth in Manhattan 6 months after my mother’s death and told the stories of her last days with us. Much to our amazement, one of those stories aired on Mother’s Day the following year. But even if it hadn’t, I was hooked, convinced that this way of sharing moments was important. Not just for me. For everyone.
A year after I launched I’mtellinya, I was invited by Imara International to travel to Nanuki, Kenya to interview teen mothers living in a safehouse there with their babies. Most of the girls have been abused; they are victims of forced early marriage, rape and incest. A member of the board asked if I would be willing to interview the girls and produce stories the organization could use to promote their mission. It was a deeply humbling experience.
I am convinced that helping nonprofits give voice to their work in this personal, intimate way really works.
Oh, and by the way. If you’re a Baby Boomer, you remember Ding Dong School, Winky Dink and Gene Autry – references you’ll hear in an audio memoir of my growing up years in Millburn, New Jersey. Kick off your saddleshoes and enjoy!
photo: Justine Stehle