Hope Is A Story
“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution — more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.”
–Story coach Lisa Kron, author of Wired for Story
I’ve been in love with storytelling for as long as I can remember.
My first time on stage as an actor was in a production of The Music Man at the Opera House in Cheboygan Michigan. At 7 years old, I stood on that stage, warm lights on my face, a sea of eager faces looking back at me from the dark and thought to myself: this is it – this is what I want to do with my life. In that moment I was hooked. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
After completing a performing arts degree in college I was blessed with opportunities that took me, literally, around the world as a performer. As my career progressed, the stages got bigger, and the costumes and lights got more complex, but at the heart of it all was that same 7-year-old yearning to connect with an audience by way of a good story.
A mid-career transition from acting to teaching only strengthened my resolve in the power of story. Beneath the buzz of fluorescent lighting I saw the students in my South Bronx theatre classroom bloom as they immersed themselves in the magic of telling stories together. In stepping into the shoes of different characters, they learned one of the most transformative of life skills: empathy. As my students became kinder, more understanding and more empathic, our school did, too. A collective commitment to story literally transformed a community.
In school after school, classroom after classroom I saw this storytelling phenomenon play itself out over and over again, each time with similar remarkable results. At a school in Honolulu, storytelling illuminated a painful period in Hawaiian history and brought the community closer to a place of healing. In Stockton, California storytelling sparked joy in 2nd grade classrooms as students took ownership and pride in sharing their own family’s stories. In these communities and countless others, the sharing of story became a powerful incubator of kindness, of respect, and of hope.
My very first JCC Chicago experience was as a guest the night of the inaugural Growing Hope concert at Gallagher Way. I had been invited to attend the event by an old friend who was in Chicago on business and admittedly, knew very little about the event itself. Over the course of the evening, however, I was swept away by the power of the stories being told on that stage – not only the stories of the incomparable Violins of Hope, but the personal testimonies of strength through struggle, connection with history, perseverance and yes, hope.
My professional journey with JCC Chicago and Growing Hope began six weeks ago, and in my short tenure with the agency, I’ve been working closely with the Community Engagement team to help give language and shape to Addie Goodman, JCC Chicago’s President and CEO’s vision for Growing Hope: a better future for our children and a kinder, more peaceful, more empathic and more hopeful world. It’s big work. Important work. Work that will require us to come together. And at the heart of our collaborative work will be our stories: camp memories and maccabi triumphs, film festival surprises and the unforgettable stories of a collection of musical instruments that touched over 200,000 lives through their messages of resilience and resistance. The Growing Hope story has only just begun to be told. It is through telling these stories, and with stories still unwritten, that we will Grow Hope. Through story, we will inspire, we will comfort, we will ignite, and we will change this broken world for the better.
I’m so grateful to be joining an agency dedicated to doing good in the world, and I can’t wait to hear your stories. Let the great work begin.
Director, Growing Hope Program