Recently, the AVODAH Jewish Service Corps members had a lesson in advocacy. The facilitator began by asking: “how did you get here?” After some confused responses such as “I took the bus,” it was clear that the question should be interpreted in a broader sense: What is your story? What led you to social justice?
Each person revealed only a glimpse of his or her picture. Because in every story, there are many sub-stories, and within those sub-stories are even more stories. Stories define us and shed light onto who we are. The lesson from that night was the importance of storytelling for advocacy work—expressing why we’re interested in working in a community with its specific challenges and why the community’s struggles are ours as well. This is essential to engage people and gain support.
I’ve thought a lot about storytelling since then. At work, I noticed that all of my interactions with clients involved storytelling. I am the Wellness Center Program Assistant at N Street Village. My favorite part of this work is coordinating the team of Wellness Center receptionists—these are clients who volunteer their time in our community, which provides an opportunity to give back and build their resumes. I spend a lot of one-on-one time with our receptionists. The more we get to know each other and build trust, the more the women open up to me. They share their personal stories—these stories are beautiful, painful, funny, and uncomfortable. As I help put their stories in writing, the ladies participate in an incredibly empowering process. They learn how life experiences and traumas can transform into resilience and the ability to give back to the community.
Although this AVODAH lesson was the corps members’ first attempt at formally narrating our personal stories, most of us knew pieces of each others stories. Describing ourselves as a dysfunctional family, we know each other really well. A week after we moved in, a vivid thought struck me: “How is it possible that we already love each other?” It was remarkable how close we had become. It has been eye-opening to explore the relationship between storytelling and advocacy: at home with AVODAH-niks, at N Street Village with clients, and on my own. Thinking ahead about my future working on issues surrounding gender, health-care, and homelessness, I know the atmosphere of openness in my AVODAH and N Street Village communities has made me a better storyteller and, consequently, a more empowered and influential advocate.
By Dena Franco – Dena is working at N Street Village through the AVODAH Jewish Service Corps. As the Wellness Center Program Assistant, she assists clients with over-the-counter requests, coordinates the schedule of health promotion activities, manages the team of wellness center receptionists and teaches classes about the brain and mental health. Dena received her B.S. in Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience from the University of Michigan and plans to pursue a dual degree in Social Work and Public Health.