The Facing Project tells inspiring stories
When author Kelsey Timmerman was in Rome last year to speak about his book “Where Am I Wearing,” the One Book Many Voices community read about poverty, he spoke with students and faculty at Georgia Highlands College. During his visit, Juliana Breithaupt, director of community outreach and engagement, met with the author to learn about his next endeavor focusing on local poverty in 10 communities across the country.
Timmerman and his cofounder on the project, J.R. Jamison, designed the Facing Project to guide communities as they enlist a team of writers to be paired with citizens who are “facing serious circumstances that deserve to be shared to educate the broader community.” The writers tell the stories as first-person accounts, which are published in a book shared and celebrated by the community.
After sharing the project idea with Laurie Chandler, director of the Bonner Center for Community Engagement at Berry College, and Dr. Paul Carter, associate vice president for academic affairs at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, the team decided to take the concept a bit further and make the Facing Project part of a communitywide service-learning project for the college students. Breithaupt said, “Service and engagement has always been a priority for our three institutions. This was the perfect opportunity for us to come together and support the work of our local nonprofits. At the same time, we gave our students the opportunity to witness firsthand the challenging issues people face in their everyday lives and how these organizations play a significant role in the viability and sustainability of our community.”
Students and their mentors from each institution worked with 23 area nonprofit organizations to detail personal stories of the people they serve. Each narrative tells the personal story of a client. Each is a profile in stamina, determination, resourcefulness – and hope.
All 23 stories were compiled into a book published by V3 Magazine, which provided the artwork and layout as an in-kind gift. The Georgia Highlands College Foundation, the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation and the Georgia Northwestern Technical College Foundation provided funding for 3,000 copies of the book to be distributed to local education, business and government organizations. “We hope that this publication will improve the sight and hearing of the greater Rome community as neighbors who previously have been invisible and voiceless are, possibly for the first time, being seen and heard,” said Chandler.
While the Facing Hope stories are based on real-life clients with real-life issues, the students sometimes needed to be creative in their approach to telling the story. Gail Garland, executive director of the child advocacy center Harbor House, said her experience couldn’t have been more rewarding. “I worked with Megan Broome, a GHC student,” she said. “Because of the sensitive nature of our work and the necessary client confidentiality associated with it, we were very limited about the personal stories we could tell. Megan came up with the wonderful solution of pulling pieces from many stories and writing her narrative from the point of view of a boy making diary entries. It came out so well I’m planning to use it in fundraising and informational pieces,”
Broome, while finding the taped interviews of children who had been sexually assaulted difficult to watch, said the experience impacted her in profound ways. “I realized immediately how lucky I have been,” she said. “What really hit me while watching those interviews was the stark realization that these horrifying experiences are real. They happen, and they happen across all socio-economic sectors. That simultaneously shook me to the core and made me grateful for the wonderful family I have.”
Broome’s mentor, English professor Carla Patterson, said, “I wanted to give Megan an opportunity to utilize and polish her writing skills to explore potential career options while also achieving her service goal. Participating in an outreach program like Facing Hope would accomplish these aims.”
For some of the students, the issue hit close to home. Jim Watkins, associate professor of English, rhetoric and writing at Berry, mentored Kacee Culpepper, who wrote a story for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He said, “My goals were fairly limited: to assist Kacee in producing a narrative in which the client-interviewee’s voice comes through loud and clear, and to use that voice to give witness to what these community partners give to those who come to them for help. Along the way I came to understand that this is a story about individuals who have overcome adversity.”
Culpepper wrote an inspirational story about a male client who had struggled from the effects of mental illness for years – lack of focus, drug and alcohol use, arrests. For Culpepper, the story was personal. Her mother suffers from mental illness, and she knows firsthand the heartbreaks and challenges associated with it. Culpepper beautifully described the story of a young man who refused to take medication and repeatedly spiraled out of control, landing him in the emergency room. Finally, the ER doctor told him no one wanted to take him back again. Ironically, that declaration was the beginning of his recovery. He made the decision to change, and he did. He now leads a productive life, is married and wants a family of his own.
For one student in particular, the client proved to be both challenging and entertaining. As an animal-lover, Kenneth Shuman, a student from Georgia Northwestern Technical College, was drawn to Compassionate Paws as a service organization whose story he wanted to tell. He wrote of the great Rottweiler Gryphon, who works as an assistive therapy dog in schools and hospitals. In Grypon’s voice, Shuman wrote, “Sometimes, when bad things happen at a school and it is reported on the news, the kids might be scared it could happen at their school. That is when Cathy and I show up to greet them in the morning and make sure they feel safe and protected. The kids love me so much and I love them.”
Psychology instructor Jennifer Carter mentored Shuman and praised him as “a nontraditional student who owns and runs a business and made the time for this project because of his passion for animals and the community.”
Rome and Floyd County celebrated the release of the Face Hope book during the downtown block party on Oct. 26. The book will also be available at a number of venues in Rome, and will serve as a resource for potential clients, families and local businesses and organizations.
Project coordinators, community partners and students are scheduled to meet with various community organizations to share more about their work over the next several months.
To request copies of the book or a speaker who can talk about the project, call 706-368-7756 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.