Traverse City News and Events

StoryCorps, Michael’s Place To Partner On New Program Recording TC Memories

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 16, 2019

Traverse City grief support center Michael’s Place has been chosen as one of six organizations across the country to help launch a new program with StoryCorps and the New York Life Foundation – a national partnership that will allow Traverse City families to record memories of lost loved ones and potentially have those stories archived in the Library of Congress and/or aired on NPR.

StoryCorps – an oral history nonprofit whose mission is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people” – selected Michael’s Place to help launch Road to Resilience, a new national storytelling program offering children and families the opportunity to preserve their memories of loved ones. Michael’s Place will receive grant funding to purchase new professional audio and recording equipment, and will receive in-depth staff and volunteer training from StoryCorps representatives, who will visit Traverse City January 29-February 1 for the program launch.

The initiative is focused specifically on collecting the stories of children impacted by grief – a new focus area for StoryCorps, which has recorded interviews with nearly a half-million Americans on topics ranging from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to mass incarceration to the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease to the experiences of LGBT, African-American, and Latino communities. StoryCorps’ recordings are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and are aired in edited form on NPR's Morning Edition.

“They’re creating this tapestry of American voices, and they’ve looked at this sector of bereaved children and said these are voices we want to hear,” says Michael’s Place Program Director Melissa Fournier, LMSW. “These are stories that need to be shared, so that people have better insight into what bereaved children experience.”

As part of the partnership, Michael’s Place has committed to completing at least 24 Traverse City recordings – four within the first six months of the program. Interviews are open to anyone under the age of 25 who has suffered the loss of a loved one; the loss does not have to be recent, and participants do not have to be current clients of Michael’s Place. “It’s not that we select people based on any criteria so much as that people who want to participate are invited,” says Fournier. “It’s an opportunity for those who are bereaved, or even had a loss a number of years ago, to share their stories. There may be a different angle, for example, looking back at a loss that occurred as a younger child for someone who’s now 18, 19, 20.”

Recordings are 40 minutes long and involve a spoken conversation between the bereaved and another individual of their choice – a parent, sibling, relative, friend, coach, mentor, or other trusted connection. Trained facilitators are on-hand to oversee the recording, take notes, and keep track of timing, but they do not interview the subjects – instead, the conversation is intended to be free-flowing between the participants. Support materials are available with age-appropriate prompts and questions to help guide conversations (sample prompts range from “How has your life changed since your family member or friend died?” to “What do you miss most about them?” to “If you could talk to the person who died, what would you say to them?”) The freewheeling nature means recordings often go in surprising directions, according to StoryCorps. “There is no right or wrong way to have this conversation,” the organization states. “All feelings are welcome – like joy, humor, sadness, anger, or guilt.”

Fournier says Michael’s Place already uses storytelling in its support groups as a therapeutic tool, but that audio recordings will be a new frontier. “We know that something transpires when a story is shared and recorded,” she says. “There’s a shift and a movement for people who do this. There’s power in the sharing of a story, and sharing it with others.”

Road to Resilience is intended to be a pilot project, with the goal that initial partners like Michael’s Place will eventually help train other grief and bereavement centers across the country. Fournier says that since Michael’s Place will still have the StoryCorps training and professional equipment in place after the pilot period, the program will likely become a permanent offering at the nonprofit and could eventually expand to include other age groups.

Fournier sees several benefits of the program to participants. For one, participants comfortable sharing their stories with others can sign releases allowing the recordings to be preserved in the Library of Congress and/or potentially aired through outlets like NPR and the StoryCorps podcast. For those participants who prefer to keep their recordings private, StoryCorps will provide a copy of the recording within 4-6 weeks exclusively to participants to keep for posterity and to share as they choose. The program is free of charge for all participants. 

“I myself was bereaved at the age of 13,” says Fournier. “My mother died of lung cancer. If I could pull a recording of myself in my teen years and share that with my teenagers today, that would give them an insight into their mother they don’t have now. Kids today who do this will have a thing they can share with a future spouse or children or grandchildren. It can be archived so people can hear their voices through time.”

Individuals interested in participating in the Road to Resilience project can contact Michael’s Place at 231-947-6453 to sign up or learn more information.

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