Connecting Change-Makers: Community Building Through Storytelling

By Madalyne Heiken, Theatre

Group projects can be intimidating. They can be even more intimidating when asked to work with a community partner. As part of the University of Denver’s (DU) Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP), students are asked to complete two projects by the end of their first year: a Campus Project and a Community Leadership Application Project (CLAP). For Spring Quarter, my CLAP group (Caitlyn Olson, Cameron Elder, Bianca Garcia, and Hridith Sudev) decided to partner with My Quiet Cave, a non-profit focused on bridging the gap between faith-based practices and mental health struggles. We created this partnership with the help of Katie Vega and the DU Scholar Shop. After our initial meeting with My Quiet Cave’s representative, Kimberly Brit, my group and I got together to create a game plan.

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From initial meetings, we came up with the united goal to connect My Quiet Cave and its resources with DU students and their resources. In consultation with Kimberly, we decided to create an on-campus event that would bring campus and the community together under one common theme: storytelling. Storytelling is typically used to build connection and encourage empathy between people, which is why we focused on this type of event. After a couple of potential locations fell through, we finally booked the event for Tuesday, May 21, 2019. We invited Kimberly from My Quiet Cave to come and speak about the mission of My Quiet Cave and any partnership opportunities that they have available for students. Additionally, we had a representative from DU’s Health and Counseling Center (HCC) share information about on-campus resources, support groups, and therapeutic assistance for students.

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Our “Tell Your Story” event welcomed seven people in addition to our group of five. We began the night with light refreshments and Two Truths and a Lie as our ice breaker activity. We chose this game to start the evening as a way to learn about each other’s lives. It was also a way to ensure everyone got to share something about themselves even if it wasn’t their entire story. From that point, we had one of our own group members, Hridith Sudev, share part of his life story and from then on, people started to share more about their experiences. We collected each participant’s contact information and later sent a feedback form to learn how we can improve similar events in the future.

One participant said that their favorite part of the event “was relating to some of the stories people shared, feeling less alone, and closer to the people who shared.”

The event was successful in connecting DU students with My Quiet Cave and on-campus resources. We were grateful for the experience, and for Scholar Shop for introducing us to a wonderful off-campus community partner. For us, this group was an introduction to the power of our voices and the impact of our community engagement with other organizations and the larger DU community.

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