Posts tagged storytelling
Live Storytelling: An Employer's Evolution | Sean Barnes

Sean Barnes is the owner of Ladles Soup, a family-owned restaurant specializing in soup, sandwiches and salads. Sean moved here recently from Charleston and he was looking for a way to get more involved in the community, when he met Emily. The story he shares is about the relationships that he formed with Emily as an employer and how it woke him up to a whole new idea of what it can mean to be a boss.

He told his story at our BYOB(reakfast), a storytelling event held at Starfire monthly.

TRANSCRIPT: In March, I moved up here to Cincinnati with my husband from Charleston, South Carolina. We started this franchise company in Charleston, South Caroline in 2007 and we have 13 nationally. We moved to Ohio because one of our friends decided they didn’t want to own the store anymore. So we took over the market, moved our entire life up here, bought a home even. Fell in love with the city it’s great. Met Emily with Chris, he came in and asked for job opportunities. My first initial response or my first thought because Emily has cerebral palsy so she’s actually in a wheelchair with a controller. So my first thought was, well I mean I would love to but there’s no job here for you in this industry because you have to stand up all day, and you have to be able to reach certain things. And I’m just thinking like it’s not going to be, I’m not going to be able to give her something because she does not have the ability to perform the task. So then Chris said she really enjoyed social media. I was like ok well maybe there would be something there. So I thought about it and we hadn’t had anybody overseeing our social media except for my step-dad because its family owned and operated.  

So he runs the Facebook and Instagram and everything. So we really wanted to entangle ourselves into the Cincinnati community since we have no roots here. So I thought what better way then to be involved in a community organization such as Starfire. So I asked him if we could let Emily take over. And then we figured out that we would do this program called Emily’s choice. Which really helped us out too, she could come in, she would try the food, she would try like the half sandwich and something off the menu and she would create this combination. And then she would take it home and try it and I would request that she would send me a rough draft of her feedback of the food by Friday. At first it was like three sentences of the food and then four of like personal experiences throughout the week.  

So we had to kind of cater it as it evolved, and we had to be like you can’t say that this is horrible, you know, because you’re working for the community, so you have to like I mean as much as you want to say it you have to say it’s delicious or not my personal favorite but..., so we started catering that and I told her we could throw in a segment too where she could talk about her week. And when Emily comes in on Mondays she comes in at 1:00pm because that’s her lower her down time and she comes in. The struggles at the beginning were like talking to her because she doesn’t communicate back unless like she will but normally she’s in her tunnel vision of Instagram followers, and she’ll follow all these people and she’ll look at them and I’m trying to have a conversation with her and Its kind of difficult sometimes to hold her attention. I found myself like halfway through it feeling like a butt one day because I was being more stern like hey listen we have to get this done. And I just felt bad because I was like oh wow I hope I didn’t talk to her badly and make her feel bad. 

Then the coolest thing was when we went to see A Star is Born with Lady Gaga, because that’s what she wanted to go see, and that same showing there were four other people with who were disabled, and they came in and they were mostly in wheelchairs. So the people there trying to fit five people with wheelchairs, automated wheelchairs in there at one time. And this one girl, was sitting next to Emily and this is when I saw her personality shine through. Because normally her personality is through text and its you know like she hasn’t really opened up to me but she was sitting there and this one girl halfway through the movie, right next to her, starts snoring. And I just see her look at the girl, turn her head to the right and turn back and like roll her eyes, and I was like *laughter* I was like, because she’s really getting into the movie. So I don’t know it was really funny. I really love working with her she’s a fantastic human. The cool thing is I told Emily at the start she would get paid for her service per store, so each store that we open her pay would increase and it will add an extra percentage. It’s pretty cool, we are going to continue, we love Emily.  


BYOB(reakfast) live storytelling event is supported by our friends at Contemporary Cabinetry East


“I hope, wherever you come from, 
there is someone who holds your story. 
Someone who remembers you when you 
were knee-high to a grasshopper.”  
–excerpt from “Who Holds Your Story” by David Pitonyak  
As a writer, I tend to notice, document, hoard interesting bits of human lives into my brain, and save them in a private stock pile like a squirrel. Small notes in my phone for later, scrawled reflections or observations in the margins of agendas, notebooks. In my phone is a running tab on observational human behavior that I found interesting, troubling, curious.

There was the man at the YMCA who swam wearing multiple gaudy gold rings and splendid gold chains tangled in his thick, salt and pepper chest hair. Back and forth in never ending breaststrokes, his jewelry would catch the sun in the overhead pool skylight and glint across the lanes. 

There was the exasperated mom I overheard in a coffee shop lamenting to a friend that her daughter was going to lose her full ride if she didn’t get her shit together and get over that eating disorder phase.

The single mom at the airport force feeding a breakfast sandwich to her three children, alternating bites like baby birds in a nest as the TSA line inched up. 

The post on a neighborhood Up For Grabs Facebook page offering used, natural deodorant, with the disclaimer that it caused a rash. 

While these anonymous observations are collected innocently for no apparent reason, other than what it shows me about the curious nature of humanity, there’s a distinct difference in documenting lives of people we know, people we support, people we provide services to more intimately. 
One of the more challenging conversations we’ve had at Starfire over the past year is the importance of storytelling and the delicate line we must tow in telling someone else’s story. The question of “who holds your story” tugs at me and is especially important for nonprofits to consider.  Are we crafting people’s stories to fit our own purpose? How do we, as nonprofit leaders, as social media marketers, as fundraisers and donor relations professionals and grant writers, as public relations professionals, share a story that is honest and truthful and respectful and genuine?  How do we tell the truth of the matter, give real life context, without violating the depths of someone’s personal experience with trauma or pain? 

Furthermore, should the holder of someone’s story be a human service organization? Is a family’s story held sacred when it’s also needed for grant reports and to leveraging funding? Where is the line? How do we know if we’ve crossed it? 
Starfire uses “a secure online database powered by University of Cincinnati Center for Clinical & Translational Science and Training” to document and measure the outcomes of our work. That’s how we put it in grants. Of course, this is important to do: is what we say we are doing getting done?  Are people with disabilities becoming more connected to the community?  Are people with disabilities finding jobs? Are creative projects being launched?  Are we taking people with developmental disabilities lives seriously with our time together?  But there’s also the real story of our work that documentation simply cannot tell. Things like: spontaneity, intentionality, beauty and creativity. Or the opposite – intolerable experiences like getting tangled up in “service snafus” or emergency respite or litigation. 
Internally we wrestle with how to share this work – the behind the scenes work of Community Builders, the brave first steps in creating a project, and the new work of supporting families leading creative projects in their own communities. We send emails and newsletters and produce Annual Reports, produce videoslead trainings, launch podcasts, and write blogs. We make a commitment each time: to honor each person’s story truthfully, delicately, and with the expressed permission and participation of those sharing their lives with us. Because these stories don’t belong to Starfire. Sure, our fingerprints are all over the scene, but they aren’t stories that we as a nonprofit organization can hold. These stories are held by people – as ordinary as you and I, stories that are held by moms and dads and brothers and sisters, coworkers, neighbors and friends. A snapshot in time celebrating the struggle of making something good, something more, happen together in the world. 


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