One of our core principles of Get Connected is to help kids learn to understand and communicate their stories. When you think of your life as a story, you begin to realize you have the power to influence the things that happen in the story as it goes forward. Thanks to Kenny Thomas with Micah’s Way, my Get Connected students and I got to share this lesson in July at a Peace Camp attended by 6-11 year olds who live in one of the poorest housing projects in Canton. My Get Connected kids told their stories of bouncing around from home to home when they were younger, getting in trouble at school, making bad decisions. But they also talked about how specific teachers, family members, and their involvement in our program helped them take their stories in a different direction. Then we had the younger kids begin to develop their stories. We had them draw or write on a poster the answer to these questions. What makes you happiest? What are you good at? What makes you proud? When you see yourself as a grown-up, what is your job? What could get in the way of  reaching your dreams? Then we had the kids stand up, introduce themselves and tell their stories. It was their first exposure to an “elevator speech”. After each spoke, everyone applauded, which tied into the Peace Camp’s “Praise Others” theme for the day. This simple activity was very powerful for everyone and could be easily replicated by church outreach groups working with inner city kids. Sharing each other’s stories is the first step towards forming connections and building relationships.

The little girl in the photo answered every question with “singing”. It’s what made her happiest and made her the most proud. It is what she dreamed of doing in the future. But when we asked what could get in the way of her dream, her answer was “I’m shy.” She couldn’t sing in front of people. So we encouraged her to let this be the day to make that change to her story. It took a little encouragement from the other kids. But she took a deep breath, kept her eyes low to the ground and then proceeded to belt out a  pitch-perfect verse of a Rhiannon song.We shouted and cheered when she finished. She beamed with delight.

This little girl learned how to begin a new chapter in her story, one where she would share her voice with the world.

In our community, my friend Andrew Rudd, a film professor at Malone University, is taking this to a new level by hosting a website that captures the untold stories of our citizens. When you embrace your community’s stories, you begin to help people believe that their lives have value. People who feel valued feel more connected, which leads to happier and healthier communities. I am excited to share stories of some of my friends on Andrew’s site. Check it out at