By Luke Gair
Since high school, Abbie Warr (C’19) has listened to StoryCorps, a project started in the early 2000s by National Public Radio that recorded the stories of people who come from different walks of life and experiences in order to foster connectivity. This summer, Warr began compiling narratives for the Cumberland StoryCorps project right in Sewanee’s backyard.
When she listened to NPR’s StoryCorps, Warr said she developed a “a deep admiration for the sense of collective humanity that StoryCorps evokes from each episode.” While she never thought she would work on a version of the project herself, she has always been inclined to work with other people because of their “rich narratives” and the opportunity to learn from the personal experiences of others.
Warr applied for the internship at Cumberland StoryCorps through the Office of Career and Leadership Development and Folks at Home, a non-profit Warr describes as “exist[ing] for the purpose of empowering older individuals to live at home with dignity in the community they love on the Cumberland Plateau.” She also learned of the opportunity at the Office of Civic Engagement, where she works as a Bonner Leader.
“I knew that I wanted to explore a career related to working with the elderly more deeply,” Warr said. “So I decided to apply…this project was imagined by Elizabeth Wilson and Wall Wofford, and they have provided me with just the right balance of guidance and freedom for creativity.”
Wilson works as the Assistant Director in the Office for Career and Leadership Development and Wofford is the Executive Director at Folks at Home. Warr said both Wilson and Wofford “conceptualized this project because they both were big fans of StoryCorps…and [they] thought its effects on Sewanee could be significant, particularly in terms of bridging generational gaps in Sewanee through Folks At Home.”
Warr said she begins her work by reaching out to a member of Folks at Home and inquiring about an interview. Then, she goes on to “draft up potential questions to ask based on [their] knowledge of the individual.” Following a recorded interview, she edits and uploads her work to the StoryCorps archives as well as to the project’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
After listening to selections of her work, it’s clear that a large part of this project is about connecting with others and the community, especially in Sewanee where it’s exceptionally neighborhood-esque and the vast majority of people are quite familiar with each other.
“Sewanee is unique in that there is a population for virtually every age group that exists,” Warr said. She looks forward to the approaching Advent semester when students will be on campus, allowing for more student volunteers. Although Warr began as an intern on the project, she plans to continue her work throughout her senior year, believing “a lot of momentum can be brought toward the Cumberland StoryCorps project once students are back on campus and seeking out ways to be better connected to the greater community.”
Warr said the project has been life-changing in the way it broadened her scope of community.
“I have been able to appreciate the power that exists within listening to those who are older than us and learning from them. My hope is that these stories will have the same effect on others,” Warr said.
She also voiced her hopes of audiences being able to “listen and understand that stories have tremendous amounts of power.”
“As students, I feel that many of us get trapped in interacting with the same groups of individuals and this project has the capacity to promote empathy across generations of our community,” she explained. She noted how Folks at Home “has been the ultimate launch pad” for this project because of the work they do for the Sewanee community.
In an age where technology and the Internet are used heavily and often, social media has shaped Warr’s experience of sharing stories. The project’s presence on both Facebook and Instagram have been her “primary platforms for sharing this initiative with others, particularly students,” Warr explained.
Additionally, she shares her work with alumni Facebook groups such as Sewanee Scrapbook “in hopes of spreading the word more rapidly.” She hopes that with a strong media presence, the project will gain a successful following.
When Warr first began her work on the project, she feared that she wouldn’t be able to find an audience willing to listen to the stories she recorded. Resilient and optimistic, she came to realize that these stories had power.
“Even if no one listened to the stories online, I still listened. And the individual who I interviewed was able to share their story,” Warr explained. “There’s something to be said for giving someone the opportunity to share and be heard, even if it’s just me that is listening.”
To listen to stories from the Cumberland StoryCorps digital archive, visit https://archive.storycorps.org/communities/sewanee-folks-at-home-storycorps-project/ and follow the project on @cumberlandstorycorps on Instagram and Facebook. To share a story or volunteer, contact Abbie Warr at firstname.lastname@example.org.