StoryCorps and Gates Foundation Launch “Finding Our Way” Project

NOTE: This blog post is about our StoryCorps project launch. For more recent information, see our StoryCorps page.

StoryCorps Tierra Jackson John Horan
One of the most memorable StoryCorps segments for the family homelessness community is the story of Tierra Jackson, who with her former principal John Horan reflected on what it was like to be homeless in high school. Photo credit: StoryCorps.

Every Friday morning at around 7:30 a.m., millions of people around the country are entranced by a weekly public radio segment in which everyday Americans tell the stories of their lives.  It’s the beloved StoryCorps, and it’s coming to our region in summer 2014 to find stories about families who have experienced homelessness.

While only about 50 of its stories per year make it onto National Public Radio, StoryCorps has actually recorded more than 50,000 stories in its 10 years. The stories are archived in the Library of Congress.

This July and August, people in Western Washington who have experienced family homelessness will be able to tell their own stories as part of the new StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories about Family Homelessness.” The project is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who asked our Project on Family Homelessness to serve as the local coordinator.

We’ll be working with local host partners to find stories from among their current and recent clients, and also reaching out to the public to find people who have experienced family homelessness in their past. The stories will also be available for our advocacy efforts to end family homelessness in Washington state.

Find out how service providers can help us find the stories and use them to advocate. Got a story? Click to jump to the details.

Program Kickoff June 3

Nearly 150 community members gathered at the Gates Foundation Visitor Center for the project launch Tuesday night, June 3, 2014, to find out how to become part of this new advocacy initiative.

The purpose of “Finding Our Way” is to develop a collection of up to 90 personal stories about families in our community who have experienced homelessness. StoryCorps will work with local host partners YWCA Seattle ǀ King ǀ Snohomish and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, along with Seattle University, to recruit participants for 40-minute recordings this summer.

In his welcome, senior program officer Kollin Min of the Gates Foundation mentioned a relevant quote from Bill Gates, Sr. on one of the walls of the Visitor Center: Though data drives results reporting, “These numbers are our neighbors.” “These data points reflect the experiences of people like us through storytelling,” Kollin said.

StoryCorps Finding our Way Gates Foundation
Kollin Min, a StoryCorps fan, said the moving stories are known to cause reactions ranging from sniffling to bawling. Some, however, are also good for a laugh.

Guests were able to meet the main project crew from StoryCorps — Michelle Bova, Abby Lesnick and producer Eve Claxton.  On her first visit to the region in late April, Eve began recording at United Way of King County‘s Community Resource Exchange April 30 and will lead the recording process this summer.

StoryCorps Launch SC with CCS
StoryCorps staff with the CCS team. L-R: Michelle Bova and Eve Claxton of StoryCorps; Jonathan Ross, Denny Hunthausen, Tanya Mendenhall Mettlen and Alan Brown of CCS.

During the overview, Abby said the purpose of StoryCorps is to give voice to the voiceless and that its audio-only format is something that founder David Isay strongly believes in.

StoryCorps Abby Lesnick
Abby Lesnick explains the StoryCorps philosophy for those who are not already devoted listeners.


The rapt audience listened as she played one of the most memorable stories, “As if high school is not hard enough,” in which a young woman, Tierra Jackson, talks with her former high school principal, John Horan, about being homeless as a high school student.

StoryCorps June 3 Audience
Guests enjoyed hearing some of StoryCorps’ most popular stories, proving the effectiveness of the audio format.


Local host partners are YWCA and CCS

StoryCorps Host Partners Erin and Denny
Erin Murphy and Denny Hunthausen describe why they’re excited about the project.

Local host partners will play an important role in the project. Denny Hunthausen of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and Erin Murphy of YWCA Seattle ǀ King ǀ Snohomish described why their organizations are excited to be part of the project. “I’m struck by the irony that data drives what we do, yet you won’t hear one piece of what we think of as data in stories of homeless families,” Denny said. “The humanizing nature of these stories is what excites us about this project.”

StoryCorps Denise Miller and Erin Murphy
Denise Miller, contact person for King and Snohomish counties, with YWCA colleague Erin Murphy.

Erin said that the YWCA serves 50,000 women a year in King and Snohomish counties and each of them has a story. “Stories are at the root of the structural change we need to end homelessness,” she said.

Got a story? How to participate

StoryCorps will record stories this summer as follows:

  • Pierce County: July 15-19, 2014,at CCS Tahoma Family Center, Tacoma.  Local host partner contact: Tanya Mendenhall Mettlen, Read the Pierce County news release.
  • Snohomish County: July 29-August 2, 2014, at YWCA Family Village Lynnwood.  Local host partner contact: Denise Miller,  Read the Snohomish County news release.
  • King County: August 11-14, 2014, at YWCA Opportunity Place in downtown Seattle and Aug. 15 at YWCA Greenbridge Center in White Center (South King County).  Local host partner contact: Denise Miller, Read the King County news release.
StoryCorps Launch Baby Oliver
Caption: StoryCorps appeals to young and old alike.

Please read the one-pager and FAQ for more information. Then, if you’d like to participate, or want to arrange a recording for one of your clients, contact your local host partner, or send an e-mail to For additional questions, please contact us at

Photo Credits: Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Steve Schimmelman of Sun Photography, 

9 thoughts on “StoryCorps and Gates Foundation Launch “Finding Our Way” Project

  1. Pingback: Partner Post: StoryCorps and Gates Foundation Launch “Finding Our Way” Project | Faith & Family Homelessness Project

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  3. Pingback: Happy Hellos and Hard Goodbyes On Project Team | Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

  4. Pingback: Families with Children Committee: Resources Share from the July 23 meeting | Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness Blog

  5. How about some follow up on your story of the Seattle family who were living in their car. The mother-daughter dialogue was simply heartbreaking. This was on KUOW this a.m.
    I wonder what it takes for a family in such dire straits to get a real home of their own again.

    • Hello Julia, thank you for asking and I apologize that your message slipped through the cracks. We hope that we can get some information from StoryCorps soon about how the family is doing now. We heard there was a lot of feedback from listeners who wanted to help. – Catherine

  6. I am a local photographer and also heard the story on KUOW about the Mom and Daughter. It made me wonder if some of these families need/want a Class photo for their kids or possibly family portrait. Understanding that if you are living in a car, the last thing you probably need is a portrait. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know how I could volunteer my services.

    • Hi Joel, thanks for contacting us with your generous offer and great idea. People have been contacting StoryCorps to ask how they can help the Kalberer family, so that is one option; you can get in touch with Michelle Bova at StoryCorps, The deadline for senior portraits is coming up! {I’m not sure if Erika is a senior yet, but that will come soon enough.) If you want to do something on a larger scale, there are several options such as United Way of King County’s annual Community Resource Exchange or Project Homeless Connect in other nearby counties, where they offer many services to families and individuals who are homeless, and they may be able to take you up on your offer; would you like to connect with them?

  7. Pingback: Firesteel Adds New StoryCorps Section to their Website | Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

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