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2022 Update for California Humanities Grant

Voices of Our Story


A-Place-to-Call-Home has worked with Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning (SAEL) as guest experts for the 10th grade from 2018-2022. SAEL’s Spring semester-long integrated curriculum for the 10th graders is called the Surviving & Thriving Expedition and focuses on what that means in the context of life in Nevada County, California. 


Our involvement has been in the classroom and interacting directly with students. We have coordinated and hosted the Kickoff event in the high school multi-purpose room, coordinated and conducted StoryCircles, worked in the classroom with students while they’ve transitioned their written narratives to multi-media art expressions, and recorded feedback and stories at the Celebration of Learning at the end of the semester.


Students have explored the various aspects of surviving and thriving through the lens of local homelessness, both in their classes at school and through experiences with local experts. The Surviving & Thriving Expedition includes students writing narratives conveying an overarching theme about what they’ve discovered through the various experiences we’ve provided and the SAEL curricula woven through these experiences. The culmination of the semester’s Surviving & Thriving Expedition is the Celebration of Learning where students present their art projects in a variety of media, fine art, music, dance, and spoken word, to an audience of parents, teachers, students, and community members. All curricula for the 10th grade at SAEL integrate the theme of surviving and thriving, and the students’ work conveys this message.


In 2019, A-Place-to-Call-Home introduced StoryCircles as another activity for the Surviving & Thriving semester. The first year we conducted in-person StoryCircles with students, community members, and homeless community members. It demonstrated to everyone participating how much we learn about others through stories. It was a great success, and SAEL asked us to come back and continue to work with the students in 2020 for the Surviving & Thriving Expedition.


In 2020, the world changed with the pandemic. The Kickoff event and StoryCircles were moved online to Zoom in 2020 and 2021. During that time, we received our second grant from California Humanities and broadened the scope of A-Place-to-Call-Home, renaming the project Voices of Our Story.


The pandemic-driven situation in public schools required pivoting our proposed project and working online and changing our intentions for sharing the student work with the community in public settings.


We decided to use content and material we’ve collected over the project’s past six years to create a short documentary film. Due to financial constraints, this film has yet to be completed.


Going forward, we wish to expand our focus and present stories as a way to shift perceptions within all marginalized groups. We see this as a way to bridge divides and make the world more inclusive so that everyone will be able to thrive.

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Letter of Recommendation

From Ryan Love, SAEL English 10 Teacher

Voices of Our Story
(A Current of Hope) 
2021 Film

Synopsis of Voices of Our Story ~ Current of Hope

Producer: Betty Louise and Susan M. Davis

Co-Directors: Caleb Sheridan, Betty Louise, Susan M. Davis

A compelling documentary proves that when we listen to Story voiced through spoken word, music, and art, perceptions shift, common humanity is unveiled and an outflowing of compassionate action creates a current of hope. 


In 2017, Betty Louise and Susan M. Davis, Co-Founders of the A-Place-To-Call-Home Project began “catching” and sharing stories from homeless people, community members, government officials, and students and faculty at a local, Nevada County California charter high school.  The intention was to document and demonstrate how we can shift from judgment to empathy toward those who are marginalized in our community. 


What transpired over the ensuing six years is proof of premise, and more importantly, evidence of transformation in both the tellers of the stories and the listeners. Communication through multi-media arts shifts the needle faster and most profoundly among youth and community members showing up to participate in the facilitated experiences integrated into the project. Authentic connection and relationships forming between individual “tellers” and “listeners” benefits everyone involved.  


The film opens with Jesse Gardner, a homeless “culture-bearer”, and active participant in the project since its inception in 2017 when he was living rough in the woods of Nevada County, California. Currently, after more than a decade of homelessness, he is housed and continues his contribution to humanity while living within four walls. Jesse talks about circles—circles of homelessness, hard to escape, circles of trust, self-confidence, compassion and empathy, with both humanity and nature. As a native of Nevada County, the natural environment is a constant current running strongly in Jesse’s veins. The woods, the Yuba River, and the wildlife, all part of his lifelong experience, flow through his words and their deeper meaning. 


Jesse’s story is only one of many; each as unique as the individual teller. The common ripple we hear, each time we listen, is an echo of our own story. Aya speaks about fear being only in her imagination. Jim tells, now six decades and a lifetime later, of the feeling of losing the family’s home. Jose poignantly shares how addiction is a deep hole —one desperately hard to dig out of. 


The experience of facilitated StoryCircles held at the Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, from 2018 through 2021 is impactful and transformational. As part of the 10th grade Surviving and Thriving Expedition, the StoryCircles experience includes the intimate participation of students, faculty, community members, and homeless people. Megan and Greg, 10th-grade teachers, voice their story about the 2021 StoryCircles, which due to the pandemic, was held on Zoom.  Despite the absence of in-person, one-to-one connection, the StoryCircles experience has a profound impact on all participants. 


Personal experience and expression through multi-media arts, no matter the medium of choice, continues to be the course a current of hope follows. Terry Worden’s personal experience echoes the experiences of many. Inspired to write “You Can See the People”, he reminds us that we all are able to take some kind of compassionate action—give a little money, give a little time, and listen to each other’s stories.  


When we listen to Story—voiced through spoken word, music, and art—perceptions shift, common humanity is unveiled, and an outflowing of compassionate action creates a current of hope running strong and deep through the landscape of humanity.

2021 StoryCircles on Zoom

Due to the pandemic, 2020 and 2021 the StoryCircles experience at SAEL needed to be a Zoom experience. Watch the recording of the beginning and end of the experience. The individual StoryCircles were done in Breakout Rooms and were not recorded. 

Some of the StoryCircle 2021 Comments from the Chat


Finnegan Thomas: I really enjoyed the humanity of it all. it was a wonderful reminder that everyone that we interact with is in different ways, incredibly human. It was very vulnerable too, I talked about some things that I’m only now coming to terms with and it was very stellar.


Starfire Talbot: I think this was very eye-opening, I thought it was a goofy idea and I was also just nervous but getting in here and doing this was very nice and connecting I think this is a wonderful way to connect with people and even our teachers :)


Saben Armeanu: My greatest reflection would be how everyone perceived the prompts and stories differently. And that it gave a very wide perspective. But mostly how relaxed everyone became as it went along.


Chloe Voss: I don't talk much, but it was a nice chance to talk about something that has happened to you


Amberly Reuter: this may sound crappy, but it's helpful to hear people who have gone through trauma of their own which makes me feel less alone


Garrett Polk: I like how these type of things educate you and yet bring people closer together and give them the courage to speak out


Owen Papegaay: I wish I had been more open today with my stories cause hearing people open up was moving, as well as everyone having a shared profoundness and gratefulness for it


Darren Fisher: I like that Starfire wants to do these more, we could do like weekly meetings where we have like 2 prompts and talk for half


Darren Fisher: I'm super excited for the compassionate action of following through on our planning ^^


From Cathy Melior Benoit: My niece of age 54 - and having been born deaf - is yet feeling the grief of family not all having ASL … Looking for captioning for our world.  Thank you technology!!!


From Allison Bishop: thank you to everyone who was able to open up about their stories. I know its hard to open up and not feel judged but I dont see any of you differently and I appreciate all of you.


Eliza Tudor: Loved hearing your stories today - a brilliant idea. Keep being brave, receptive and compassionate!

Outreach/Promo to Community
for StoryCircles Experience

Your community group has the opportunity to participate in a StoryCircle experience facilitated by Susan Davis and Betty Louise, Founders of Voices of Our Story/A-Place-To-Call-Home. They have been facilitating StoryCircles since 2019 with Nevada County youth, community members, and individuals who are or have experienced homelessness.


They have found that the StoryCircle experience creates profound shifts toward inclusion, common humanity, and compassionate action among the participants.


StoryCircles bring diverse participants face to face in an intimate setting to talk about important issues, hear one another, and envision the way forward. It begins with listening. It begins with you.


A StoryCircle is a small group of individuals sitting in a circle, sharing stories from their own experiences focused on a common theme. As each tells a personal story, a larger and more complex narrative unfolds.


By listening deeply to each other, individuals can see both real differences and commonalities in their experiences.


The process of sharing personal stories lifts up community challenges, needs, and aspirations. StoryCircles help individuals discover their own thoughts about an issue and develop new ideas in dialogue with others. Creating an inspiring and safe space to listen to people’s experiences helps humanize complex issues, nurture empathy for each other, build bridges across differences, and generate local solutions.

When we listen to authentic stories, rather than opinions or prepared speeches, perceptions shift, common humanity is unveiled, and an outflowing of compassionate action creates a current of hope running strong and deep through the landscape of humanity.

Please contact us if you are interested in experiencing a facilitated StoryCircle event.

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