The Impact of Story

“Storytelling can change a room. It can change lives. It can change the world.”  

–Gwenda Ledbetter

Last Monday night, over 500 people came together as we gathered at_dsc6649 Gotham Hall in New York for Fedcap’s annual Celebration of Work gala. Assembled were board members from our family of agencies as well as our friends, partners, supporters and staff.  I love this night each year as it is a time to pause, reflect and celebrate the work that we have done to change the lives of those with barriers to economic well-being.  This year, the gala proved to be one of the most powerful evenings in our agency’s history.

We chose to reflect on our work through the power of stories and we launched the Power of Possible Stories—an initiative through which we can tell hundreds, even thousands of stories and in the telling of the stories, change people’s lives.

Three remarkable people stood before the crowd and shared their narratives of untold hardship and survival, and of their ability to overcome unimaginable odds to ultimately thrive and flourish.

The stories told that night were not pretty. They did not follow an easy formula that was comfortable to hear. Instead, all three told stories involved gut wrenching pain and loss. Miriam Adler, a survivor of the Holocaust described fear in a way that I suspect many of us cannot imagine. She recounted first-hand what it was like to experience the loss of her family and the fear as she woke each day wondering if it would be her last.  Steve H. told his story of what it was like spend 19 years in prison, and Niki S. grew up to survive her mother’s mental illness, physical and sexual abuse, ravaging addiction and a life on the streets.  Undergirding these tough stories, told in stark beauty, was a thread of courage and the intensity of family love and the success and joy that followed perseverance.  _dsc6728

The testing ground for courage is often those troubled times during which our true strength of character is revealed. What we witnessed last Monday night was extraordinary strength of character. The things that happened to the people we heard from could have happened to any of us. Hearing their stories—and the many stories of those we serve—connects us to them in ways that nothing else quite does and inspires hope that the future can be different than the past. Hearing these stories inspires us to act, to make a difference, to change a life.

I will talk more about the Power of Possible Stories in the blogs to come.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Transforming Lives through Story

Stories show us how to bear the unbearable, approach the unapproachable, conceive the inconceivable. Stories provide meaning, texture, layers and layers of truth. – Joseph Campbell .

In my job as CEO of a large nonprofit, one of the critical pieces of my work is making sure that we measure the impact of the work we do. Twice a year, in the name of transparency, we present a release of our financial health to our stakeholders, vendors, funders, and interested community,  demonstrating that we are responsible stewards of the resources entrusted to us.  In addition,  we pursue the tracking and analysis of Metrics That Matter  –metrics that reflect our efficacy in changing the lives of those served.   These numbers in part  tell the story of the work of our agency, and they are effective tools in helping us manage and measure our progress toward our mission of eliminating barriers to economic well-being.

Our “numbers” story serves a very important purpose. But underneath every single number  lies the individual stories of people whose lives are transformed by the work we do. These stories are what keep all of us coming to work each day.

The stories of the individuals whose lives we touch connect us. They show us a world beyond our own—a world where we get to walk alongside another, seeing things from a lens that is different from our own. They give us what the poet Mary Oliver calls the “sustentation of empathy”—an ability to see a truth different from our own, but equally as valuable, as poignant, as full of hope and fear, experience and triumph as the narratives of our own lives.

When we hear the stories of those we serve, we remember why we do the work we do. We hear about the defining moment in people’s lives where they were transformed by hope, by mentorship, by recognizing that a dream could become a reality. Part of our work at Fedcap is to  understand the narrative of each life.  The narrative gives us the reasons why, it helps us inspire hope, and it helps us strive to a life—and often a generation— that is transformed.

At the end of November, we will be hosting our annual celebrating our Celebration of Work Gala.  This year, we are honoring stories of perseverance and ovestoryrcoming tremendous adversity.   We will hear from individuals who have risen above life-defying odds to go on to not only survive, but to thrive and to go on to inspire others.

At Fedcap, we are about transformation, about hope, and about the power of possible.

Each night I think about a story that I’ve heard, a life changed. And while I am always thinking about what we can do next, I rest easier knowing that there are new narratives being created every day. Every one of us has a story worth telling—our story is what gives our lives meaning. What’s yours?