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Digital storytelling encourages community engagement


A white man wearing a black baseball cap and t-shirt points at a photograph on a beige wallElderly and disabled residents were able to share their stories with the broader community through a digital storytelling project created by Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services of Corvallis, Oregon, and the Resilience Project. Participants were residents of the Hotel Julian, a historic apartment building that provides affordable studio and one-bedroom rentals to qualifying elderly or disabled residents earning 50 percent or below the area median income.

"Since the Hotel Julian is a historic building downtown, it draws a lot of attention and people come through for tours," says Rebecka Weinsteiger, Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services' community engagement manager. "There was one particular tour in which a participant said, 'Wow, I didn't realize it would be so nice here.' It was implied that since it serves a vulnerable population, it might not look as good."

The Hotel Julian is enhanced by displays of art created by its residents. Weinsteiger's involvement with the residents led to the production of the art show and the development of a writing club, in which participants share poetry, short stories and diary entries. It was that forum that inspired the video project, "Stories from the Hotel Julian."

Through a collaboration with Kriste York, co-founder of the Resilience Project, the digital storytelling proposal was created and Hotel Julian residents were invited to apply for a $2,000 grant from the Benton County Cultural Coalition to implement it. One stipulation was that the resulting work must be shared with the communities in Benton County.

A series of personal video stories was produced that to help the community get to know the residents of the Hotel Julian, and showcased at a free screening at a local movie theater.

The power of the project is that York and the Resilience Project provided the tools for the residents to tell their own stories. Each video included a short personal narrative from the featured resident, recorded as a voiceover track over an array of visual images and music.

"I like it on all levels, because creating and sharing stories are part of our mission. What we do is bring people together, helping them get to know each other," Weinsteiger explains. "There are so many differences among all the people around the table, but as their story gets 'unpacked,' there is just this depth of connectivity that grows."

Learn more about the Resilience Project/WNHS collaboration.

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