Finding Our Voices by Sharing Stories:
Using Story to Create A Transformative Curriculum in A Homeless Shelter
In January 2003, Gail Catlin and I received a grant from the National Storytelling Network to develop a transformative story curriculum for homeless women in the Women’s Empowerment Program. The Women’s Empowerment Program is a privately funded jobs and housing program that has now graduated over 1000 women with a distinctive 80% job and housing attainment rate. Lisa Schmitt Culp, program founder and director, attributes the unusual success rate to many factors, including transformative arts component of the program, specifically the story curriculum.
The overall goal of the story curriculum is to help the women identify and reframe nonproductive life patterns, while also developing a sense of ownership over their lives. I meet with each group several times to offer story sessions. The curriculum uses different types of story to weave a comprehensive approach. The journaling session opens up possibilities of personal storytelling, while also giving the women a tool for self-reflection and discovery. The folklore sessions use traditional stories and myths to open up new avenues for understanding personal experiences and patterns. The biographies help the women gain historical perspective and an appreciation of the role of social forces, while also offering inspiration.
One group member expressed the role of story clearly and succinctly when she wrote, “Story brings the possibility of change, the hopefulness of creativity, the ability to overcome an obstacle, and the nurturing piece.”
The photograph is from the Women’s Empowerment centerpiece and shows one of the client’s biographies. A biography is chosen daily and read out loud to open each session.