Springfield, Ohio - Wittenberg University has been selected by Ohio Campus Compact to become a Facing Project site -- one of only three colleges in Ohio chosen for the coast-to-coast exercise in compassion that is giving a voice to the silent.
The Facing Project is a nonprofit effort that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. It also provides tools, the platform and inspiration so communities can share stories of citizens through the talent of local writers, artists and actors. Stories focus on a specific topic or problem the community is facing and gives voices to people whose stories may have never been told.
"When Ohio Campus Compact put the request to member colleges to apply for a Facing Project, I knew we couldn't pass up the opportunity," said Kristen Collier, director of community service at the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement at Wittenberg. "It gives us a chance to expand upon the relationship-building we do through service by providing a voice to those members of our community who need to be heard. We are thrilled to be one of three colleges in Ohio to be selected for this project."
According to the Facing Project's website, the other two Ohio colleges are Ohio Northern University and the University of Dayton. By this fall, thanks in part by the Campus Compact partnership, the Facing Project will spread to 70 new communities across the United States bringing the total number of Facing Project communities to more than 100. By next year, nearly 7,000 volunteers from across the country will have engaged with Facing Projects, and more than 2,000 first-person stories will be used to create community conversations for change.
The Facing Project model serves as a guide for campuses and communities as they enlist a team of writers to be paired one-on-one with citizens facing life circumstances that deserve to be shared in order to better educate the broader community. The pairs meet, get to know one another and share stories of triumph and tragedy, of loneliness and community, of hate and happiness, and of deep depression and lofty goals.
Lauren Instenes, class of 2017 from Racine, Wis., is passionate about the project and is thrilled to be its coordinator. A history major pursuing minors in theater and international studies, she works at the Hagen Center and helped develop Wittenberg's theme of "Facing Intolerance." The theme focuses on the lives of the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) community of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg's hometown.
"Because of my position at the Hagen Center, I was notified of the project right away," Instenes said. "I was very excited about the project because it embodied many of my interests. The project allows me to bring up the issue of LGBTQIA rights in Springfield and on Wittenberg's campus. The subject is something I have been passionate about for a while. We hope to give our community a closer look at what people are facing as a way to strengthen the community and connect Wittenberg with the great city we are a part of in a new way. Stories are such an amazing way to allow people to see difficult topics, such as this one, in a different way, and we hope that this project will strengthen the love and acceptance in our own community."
As a Wittenberg student, Instenes received a generous research grant of more than $2,000 to stay on campus this summer to start the project. Normally it would cost more than $1,500 to receive all of the materials needed to start a Facing Project on a campus; however, Wittenberg is receiving an entire tool kit at no cost including an official website and an editing team.
The Facing Project will bring together community partners, college students, storytellers, writers, artists and volunteers to learn from the first-person stories of their neighbors -- and to be inspired by the stories to create new, hyper-local conversations and action.
Instenes explained that writers will use their talents to take on the voice and persona of their storytellers, bringing to life a voice that has been silenced, while keeping the anonymity of the subjects. Through these awareness outlets, communities can begin to sit down together to face the next steps of discovering new, grassroots solutions to the problem.
"We have recruited writers and storytellers," Instenes said. "We are in the process of setting up face-to-face meetings. After the writers complete their stories, we will compile the stories into a book and produce a live theatrical event. The event will take place during the next school year, hopefully both on campus and somewhere in the community. We will have a release party open to both Wittenberg's community and the larger Springfield community."
Instenes has currently enlisted 15 Wittenberg students, as well as community members who have volunteered to be writers. The Writing Center is also partnering with the project.
"We have a number of students, faculty and staff currently helping out with the project, but we can always use more help and would welcome anyone who is interested in getting involved with the project," she said. "Three departments are supporting the project - history, theater and English. This project would not be possible without the support of the Hagen Center and Kristen Collier, who has played a large role in making the project a reality on campus."
For more information, contact the Hagen Center at 937-327-7523. If you would like to see Wittenberg's Facing Project website go to http://wittenberg.facingproject.com/
About the Facing Project
The Facing Project officially formed as a nonprofit in 2015. It co-founded by J.R. Jamison and Kelsey Timmerman because they believe in the power of first-person stories to enact community change. As writers and active citizens, the two have witnessed this firsthand and are passionate about helping other communities tell their stories.