‘My words, their imagination’: Local group looking for more volunteer storytellers
Steamboat Chapter of Spellbinders holding training to grow ranks as requests from classrooms increase
When Sherrie Ford saw an ad looking for volunteer storytellers in 2015, she thought reading stories to elementary school students in the added free time that comes with retirement would be fun.
But when Ford attended training and realized she wouldn’t be reading, but instead delivering spoken word stories, she was a little intimidated.
“I’m an accountant, we’re not exactly encouraged to be creative,” Ford said. “I thought, this kind of pushes the envelope for me, but I’ll go through the training and then see what I think.”
The training was for the Steamboat Springs Chapter of Spellbinders, which is a group of volunteers that has been recounting tales to elementary school classes in Steamboat since 2008. Despite considering herself an introvert, Ford said the training gave her a lot of confidence that storytelling would be a good step out of her comfort zone.
“It’s turned out to be one of the most fun volunteer things I do,” Ford said.
Ford is one of nine volunteers that currently tells stories locally, but Chapter Leader Sherry Holland says the storytelling has become so popular, they need more people to help spin yarns for Steamboat youngsters.
“Our goal is to keep the oral tradition of storytelling alive,” Holland said. “We have now gotten to a point where we have so many classrooms asking for us, that we just really need to keep growing our organization.”
The group is holding trainings from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Aug. 23, 24 and 25 at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat. Holland said this is the first opportunity to join the group since 2019, as trainings have been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2008, Holland estimates she has helped train about 100 different storytellers, some as young as 20 and others over 80 years old. She said a lot of Steamboat locals would likely be great at it, especially if they like working with children.
The training does cover basic skills about volunteering in a classroom, but Holland said it primarily teaches future spellbinders how to tell stories. It includes teaching would-be storytellers how to find their stories — there is a whole section at the library devoted to this — as well as how to interact and get students to engage with the stories.
Volunteers are asked to commit to tell stories about a half-dozen times a year, each lasting about a half hour. Some take on multiple classrooms from kindergarten to fifth grade, while others prefer to take one class.
“We have a pretty solid core, the people we have now have all been with us for many years,” Holland said. “A lot of our spellbinders are now having to take several classes at several different schools so I’m trying to help them out by getting more people.”
Holland said some volunteers have built lasting relationships with students by telling stories to them. Ford said the first group she told stories to in 2015 is now at Steamboat Springs High School. While they may not remember the title of a story she told, they can always remember details from their favorites, Ford said.
“I always ask what was your favorite story, and they can always pull one up,” Ford said.
In the past, Ford said she has tried to work with teachers to bring in stories that can be particularly relevant to what is going on in the classroom.
Once, a teacher mentioned that a student had moved to Steamboat from Uzbekistan, and a story from their home country may make them feel welcome in the Yampa Valley. Ford said she was able to find a folktale about watermelon seeds and a stork that highlighted treating others with kindness and not doing things that are only in one’s self interest.
Some volunteers only tell true stories that come from the Yampa Valley, while others prefer to stick to folk stories, Ford said. She said she will often give students a teaser of what she is preparing for next month. Often, October stories will involve a ghost or monster, she said.
“I think it’s really enriching for the kids,” Ford said. “When you think about it, everything we do is video and visual. What we’re doing is captivating them with nothing more than my words, and their imagination.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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