"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Freedom-Based Mentoring: How to Transform Resistance to Acceptance

This is the full article I wrote, though a condensed version was published in the January/February 2008 Storytelling Magazine, with the theme "It Is The Right Time for Mentoring".

Out of over 13 years, eight of those years I walked the storytelling path alone. This was was choice. I did not mind being alone. In many ways I thrived on it. When I was ready, I turned to others.

Storytellers have always surrounded me--whether by fellow classmates competing in the storytelling category during high school or whether by peers in storytelling guilds. With constant inspiration, all have earned the name "friend" though only a couple people in my life have earned the title "mentor".

Each one of these special people followed what I call Freedom-Based Mentoring with these levels:
  • Freedom to Start
  • Freedom to Trust
  • Freedom to Dream
  • Freedom to Stop
Before connecting with the four levels, meet two key mentors in my life: Doris Sexton and Don Doyle.

Meet Doris Sexton
My first story was a failure. I was a sophomore in high school and my coach from Forensics, an organization of public-speaking contests, made no comment as how to improve my story except, "sign up for more practices." Rather than be mentored, I secretly practiced in the shower, the basement, or in the shed. I could not face Coach Sexton despite my high respect for her skills.

After the first storytelling tournament, I climbed on the bus with the other students. Sexton called out my name and strongly asked to hear my story again. My scores were not good enough for any trophies though good enough for a first-timer at a major event.

I took a deep breath and told for Sexton. She smiled and said, "Ahhhhhhhh, much better." From then on, I met with her every week. Each tournament I improved and by the end of my senior year I received 5th in State for Storytelling.

Despite initial reluctance, I honor Sexton as my catalyst into storytelling.

Meet Don Doyle
I was nervous meeting Don because I never had complete attention for storytelling except for eight years back with Sexton. Until receiving the J.J. Reneaux Mentorship Grant, my only knowledge of Don Doyle was of his stirring speech on connecting the generations of storytellers at the 2004 National Storytelling Conference. In September 2006, I jumped on the plane from Salt Lake City, Utah to Mesa, Arizona for a week-long one-on-one gathering.

When I reached out to shake Don's hand, he ignored it and gave me a hug instead. That action reflected what would occur in the next few days.

Don chose to break the ice by talking about storytelling interests over lunch. By the time we turned to experimenting or "playing" with techniques, Don knew my goals. He wrote them down and referred to them often.

With Don's strong theatrical background, I could receive feedback on how to piece an epic tale. I desired to create a one-hour Greek myth with the gods Hephaestus, Zeus and Hera in regards to child abuse. I knew the techniques needed for this story could be applied to other story creations. I continue to learn from him.

Freedom to Start
Whether with Sexton or with Doyle, I was the one who initiated contact.

Sexton gave me the space I needed though she still voiced that she was interested in what I had to say. Doyle reflected the same openness as he allowed me to set the pace in the techniques we explored together. Even the act of flying to Arizona versus having Don fly to Utah made a difference in my psychological need for freedom. After the first gathering, the place would not be so crucial.

Freedom to Trust
Despite Sexton's illustrious "Coach of the State" award, I depended upon classmates' impressions. I knew she was tough and often intimidating yet the ideas of the students came first.

Out of the week that I spent in Mesa with Don, at least a half-day was dedicated to understanding each other's backgrounds. This reassured myself that Don really had the best of intentions for me.

Freedom to Dream
Never did Sexton cram a story in my face and say, "You should tell this one." If she had, I would have screamed, most likely never to return. She let me decide whether a story was or was not working.

At one point, Don suggested that due to the type of story I wanted to pursue, we invite Liz Warren, who had a Greek myth background. He could have steered me away to a different story I wanted to work on. Instead, he recognized that he could focus on the techniques while also modestly stepping aside when others could guide in different areas. I was allowed to dream the types of dreams I wanted at the moment.

Freedom to Stop
Ideally the mentoree initiates as well as stops the mentoring. This idea could apply to individual sessions and to the relationship itself. A true mentorship will last the ages, even if little contact is made. As for Sexton, I update her on my storytelling through Christmas letters and visit whenever I travel to Wisconsin to see family. Don and I still email and call each other. We strive to connect whenever we are at the same storytelling conferences or festivals.

I no longer choose to walk the storyteller path alone.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Story Box: World Celebrates One Story at a Time

Thanks goes to Kevin Cordi (pictured upper left) for granting permission to post pictures and to share comments from a telephone interview on December 19, 2008. The end of this post reveals how to have your own Story Box.

A box could hold the wonders of the world, especially if it is The Story Box. As you celebrate the New Year, consider The Story Box as a gift for you and your community. This would be a resolution worth sharing.

"Dare I say since 1995 at least a million people have participated with The Story Box," said Kevin Cordi. He is the 1st ever Academic-Storyteller in Residence at the Ohio State University's Multicultural Center. He has taken up the charge to share how stories can be used to help address issues such as diversity, leadership, transformation, and community.

Background and Current Endeavor
Cordi founded The Story Box Project in 1995 and its popularity inspired another launch beginning January 15, 2009 through June 2009. While working in partnership with the Multicultural Center, Cordi is spearheading a movement to continue to share Story Boxes around the world.

Cordi expressed that one time he attended a Story Box event with more than 800 people. At other times, a Story Box was shared with a more intimate group of five, ten, or twenty people. The numbers have grown, mostly due to how global this project has become.

At first it was going to be limited to the Ohio area. Then friends of Cordi asked, "Why can't I do it?"

Enough people approached Cordi that currently over 40 organizations and centers in and around Columbus, Ohio (see list at end of post) along with other locations including Singapore and Nicaragua will participate.

This six-month effort will culminate with a storytelling festival on June 3rd and 4th 2009 featuring community and university Story Box ambassadors selecting stories to share from their Story Boxes. During the year, noted storytellers Eth-Noh-Tec, Olga Loya, Onawumi Jean Moss, and Dovie Thomason as well as Cordi will present two-day residencies for the community and university to model story giving.

In June, each location's Story Box will be shipped around the world, traveling to a new place every three weeks, and finally returning one year later to Columbus.

Stories from The Story Box Journey
Sometimes The Story Box has its own story with the mailing itself. The box never reached past customs in China because they could not tell what was in it.

Another time a small school in India received the box. It was supposed to stay for three weeks. Seven months later, the box was still there and two people volunteered to travel to India to ensure its safe return.

Cordi laughed, "I never know how quick The Story Box will travel."

Since The Story Box could be sent anywhere in the world, some people may take an hour or two to translate your story. Cordi confirmed, "And people have done this." One of his fellow PhD classmates, Camille Cushman, is traveling to Nicaragua. She will take a video tape recorder and audio recorder to transcribe stories.

Cushman is the same person who recently worked with the famous Patch Adams, now known to some people through the movie that featured Robin Williams. Cushman has already created narratives for The Story Box using humor and puppetry with those who have little time left in hospitals and clinics.

Cordi added, "Some people have put in the original story or the original script and it is probably the only copy." The story would not be heard unless it was in The Story Box.

Though any kind of story could be placed in the box, the theme for 2009 is for stories to discuss peace or conflict resolution. Each Story Box will carry a message of peace along with countless stories that are real or imaginary.

A woman in New Mexico had The Story Box and the day she was going to ship it, she met the Dalai Lama and blew him a kiss. He blew a kiss back. When she told Cordi about her experience, he responded, "You should add that to The Story Box."

She gasped, "I didn't think I could."

Types of Story Contributions
Cordi has had other people wonder what would be considered "appropriate" to put in The Story Box.

The Story Box defines story as any means to share narrative. Past contributions have included: DVDs, photographic images, small paintings, posters, MP3s, fiction and non-fiction. "I consider this global publishing. Not only will hundreds and thousands of others read, listen, or view their work, but the Story Ambassadors will encourage others to share this work in an organized way," Cordi stated.

Cordi admitted that when he created The Story Box, he expected print stories. "People surprised me by putting in chapter books, newspapers about Walla Walla, WA, a beautiful handmade fabric from India, and CDs and DVDs of professional storytellers."

These items have found a home in The Story Box as much as any print stories.

Internet vs. Physical Box
Though the Internet allows for a digital box, Cordi encouraged that people host an actual physical box. He expounded, "I want a physical feeling of receiving story, something I can hold in my hand or listen on a CD, so they know that value of really being touched by story. It's an emotional experience when you hold stories in your hand or listen to them."

Cordi saw the Internet more as a way to spread the word about the project rather than becoming the project. He reiterated, "On the Internet you get lost. I think it's a wonderful tool, but the old-fashioned way of sending something to someone says so much more." Cordi continued, "People say we don't write letters anymore, but we know what it feels to get one."

He compared The Story Box experience to when a child waits by the mailbox for that birthday gift from his favorite aunt. The mailbox suddenly becomes the giver of gifts. The wait could be unbearable, though eventually the boy howls with delight and all is worth it. Perhaps the mystery that the mailbox grants is better than sneak peaking in the closet for presents.

The Hunger for Stories
There is a certain hunger for stories and the mysteries each one may hold.

"Someone once told me they were story-starved." This prompted Cordi to reflect on his own life. "When I was 18, I was starved."

At 18, he discovered tapes of professional storytellers like Jay O'Callahan and Elizabeth Ellis and he could feel a little more satisfied, but this only increased his craving for stories. Many people around the nation witnessed as Cordi went on a crusade.

He urged, "We need to feed people stories so they know who they are. We need to value each others' words." Cordi added, "After 14 years as an educator, I don't want to see people starve for something with little or no expense." He upheld that The Story Box Project, and in particular the stories created and shared as a result, could feed others when they need to be nourished.

How Can I Help?
Cordi is enlisting "Story Ambassadors". Story Ambassadors will collect stories and serve as hosts for the "Drop-Off" location for The Story Box Project. Story Ambassadors will also send their Story Boxes to the Ohio State University Multicultural Center (MCC) in June 2009 so that they can be part of the global launch.

Individuals can host a Story Box by sending an email to Kevin Cordi at kcteller@sbcglobal.net or calling (614) 272-6153.

People can find out more about The Story Box Project at http://kevincordi.com/storybox.html. A digital story detailing The Story Box can also be found on Kevin's website at http://kevincordi.com/storybox-av.html where educators, community members, librarians, and school personnel have shared their own stories.

In the month of May each Story Box location will swap with another location to celebrate the new stories. Throughout the year, the MCC will present internationally known storytellers in free public performances and workshops. Details are on the MCC's site at http://multiculturalcenter.osu.edu.

People can send a physical copy of a story (or many stories) or by email to kcteller@sbcglobal.net to be placed in one of the boxes. People may photocopy stories, but the originals must remain in the box. Imagine such a treasure from all over the country arriving in your city or country to share.

After the storytelling festival in June, The Story Boxes will travel around the world, including Northern Ireland, Singapore, Nicaragua, and Japan. The Story Boxes will return one year later and the celebration will begin again.

The following organizations are committed Story Box Drop-Off Sites. A full list with contacts will be available on the MCC's site by January 15, 2009.
  • VoiceCorps
  • Columbus City Schools
  • Bexley City School District
  • The Multicultural Center at the Ohio State University
  • St. Matthias School
  • Office of Minority Affairs of the Ohio State University
  • Dublin Scioto High School
  • St. Mathews School
  • "Step Back from the Baggage Claim" Organization
  • Yellow Springs, Ohio (various places and organizations)
  • Communities/Schools in Singapore
  • Ohio State University Folklore Department
  • Columbus State College Student Ambassador Program
  • Southern Ohio Central Storytellers
  • Undergraduate Student Academic Service Administration & Academic Advising
  • Columbus Area Writing Project
  • Herbert Mills School
  • Fairmont College, West Virginia
  • Columbus State International Student Association
  • Collected stories from Nicaragua, via OSU Student
  • Ohio State University College of Teaching and Learning, The Martha King Center
  • Kerouac Kafe
  • Avery Elementary School
  • Mont Vernon Middle School
  • United Church of Christ
  • Ohio State University Residence Halls
  • Community Work in Middleport, Ohio
  • Saint Pius Catholic School
  • Brown Mackie College in Cincinnati
  • The Athletic Club of Columbus
  • Hickory Ridge Elementary School
  • Medical Care Facilities in Columbus
  • The Ohioanna Library
  • Saint Andrews Catholic School
  • The Center for Teaching and Writing, Ohio State University
  • Orient Correctional Facility
  • Princeville Grade School, Illinois
  • Hinds Feet Farm, North Carolina

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller