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Mobile van to record Forsyth residents’ stories

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Todd Cohen

The ECHO Council, a group formed in 2003 to build “social capital,” or civic connectedness, has launched an initiative to collect and share life stories from people who live and work in Forsyth County.

Modeled loosely on StoryCorps, an oral-history project whose stories air on National Public Radio, the local StoryLine project will record individuals’ stories in a mobile van outfitted with digital-recording equipment.

The 40-minute interviews will be archived at the Forsyth County Library and edited versions of three to four minutes will be available at storylineproject.org and be aired once a week on WFDD, the public-radio station at Wake Forest University; WSJS-AM; WSNC, the public-radio station at Winston-Salem State University; and on four Spanish-language stations operated by Que Pasa.

“If we can have people understand all the different kinds of people who live here by listening to their stories, we will start to feel connected to each other, we will start to understand that we may be more alike than we realized, and that we share a common humanity,” says Gail Fisher, volunteer director of the project.

Fisher, a retired marketing executive and consultant, has served on the ECHO Council since it was formed in 2003 to build social capital in the community.

Initially funded by the Winston-Salem Foundation, which continues to provide support, the ECHO Council grew out of a national study that looked at social capital in three-dozen communities in the U.S., including Winston-Salem.

That study, led by Robert Putnam of Harvard University, found local residents do a great job volunteering and giving to charity but are divided by race and class.

After several initiatives that focused on leadership and community outreach, the ECHO Council in 2006 formed a marketing committee to find ways to “market social capital to the larger community,” says Fisher, who chaired the committee and now chairs its successor group, the StoryLine steering committee.

Working with a two-year budget of $100,000 to $120,000 and a former bookmobile donated by a Mocksville resident who had been operating it as an ice-cream truck, the committee purchased digital-recording gear.

Specialty Vehicles Company in Pfafftown donated labor to transform the van into a recording studio, while the design staff at Winston-Salem architecture firm CJMW donated their time to develop an interior-design plan for the vehicle.

And communications firm M Creative developed a graphic brand-identity the StoryLine project is using on its van, website, brochures and compact discs it will give to each storyteller containing their story.

Working with civic groups, religious congregations and other organizations, the van will travel throughout the county to collect stories, making a special effort to find “voices that haven’t been heard,” particularly those of African-American and Hispanic residents, Fisher says.

Working with a volunteer facilitator who will ask questions, pairs of people will record their stories, which then will be edited at Spot Recording Studio.

StoryLine will translate into Spanish or English, respectively, stories recorded in the other language.

All the stories, and others already recorded, will be available on the StoryLine project website.

The local radio stations will air the edited stories, and each station will run the stories in a scheduled time slot each week.

Scott Wierman, president of the Winston-Salem Foundation, says the StoryLine project will “let people know everybody has something to contribute and everybody’s story has value in building a community.”

Fisher says the goal is to “show this community the rich diversity of voices within the community.”

Stories, she says, “have the power to connect people to each other.”

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