Bringing Storytelling to Campus

by Adah Hetko, guest editor for New Voices (Katie Knutson)

The “Bayit,” the home of Jewish Life at Vassar College, sits right outside Vassar’s gate. On an evening in November, we set the Bayit’s parlor with a circle of chairs ready to welcome students, administrators, members of the surrounding community… and their stories.

Vassar College students and members of the Dutchess County Interfaith Story Circle share stories based around the theme of "travel". Photo by Muriel Horowitz

Vassar College students and members of the Dutchess County Interfaith Story Circle share stories based around the theme of “travel”. Photo by Muriel Horowitz

The event was an interfaith story circle: a collaboration between Vassar’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and the Dutchess County Interfaith Story Circle. The November story circle was one of several storytelling events that I have had the opportunity to facilitate at Vassar during the past few months. As a teenager I trained with Children at the Well-Youth Storytellers for Peace & Understanding (jump-started by NSN’s 2006 Brimstone Award for Applied Storytelling). In college, I continued telling stories and engaged in interfaith organizing, but never combined the two. When I graduated from Oberlin College, and was hired as the Tanenbaum Inter-religious Fellow at Vassar, I was curious to see how I could use storytelling in my work to build community on campus and support students’ exploration of identity. Six months into this experiment, here are my thoughts.

Let’s return to the Bayit’s parlor. A change from the often tightly structured and hierarchical classroom environment, the circle of chairs was both welcoming and challenging. As the students and community members found seats, there was an initial discomfort. Then, they began to look into one another’s faces and smile. Once the storytelling began, full attention was given to each teller in turn. This intense focus generated a shared creative current with the energy flowing around the circle rather than from one speaker.

From this centrifuge, the stories flowed. The theme of the evening, “travel,” carried us from international flights and death-defying escapes to family road trips and summertime journeys. The first student to share a story later told me that she wasn’t sure how her story would be received. In the process of describing her transitions between home and college that included her religious practice, she became aware of the particularity of her experience, and adjusted her story to make it more accessible to the diverse audience. I thought that it took great courage for her to acknowledge the differences in the room, and make her story so accessible. Later, she told me that the process of sharing her story had actually given her courage. She had also gained a greater appreciation for the community surrounding Vassar. With this ethos of discovery, it’s no surprise that the evening was filled with laughter, an expression of both relief and delight.

So far, storytelling has burst the “bubble” of a tight-knit campus. Telling and listening to stories has helped Vassar students to reframe their experiences and absorb an enriched sense of what is relevant to their lives. Storytelling has empowered them to appreciate the present moment as well as one another, and the larger community. What more could you want from an education?

Following the story circle, a storytelling workshop, and a storytelling-infused Shabbat service, students were abuzz with ideas for using storytelling elsewhere on campus: to build community in residence halls, to personalize coursework in International Relations, and to help survivors of violence articulate their experiences. While I don’t know how many of these ideas will come to fruition, I’m glad to have planted the seed of story.

About Adah:

Adah Hetko, a founding member of Children at the Well Youth Storytellers for Peace and Understanding, has performed and facilitated storytelling in a variety of settings. Adah graduated from Oberlin College in 2013, and currently works as the Inter-religious Fellow with Vassar College Religious and Spiritual Life.


The Beaver Tail Light House Tale

Told by Ken Galipeau

Click to listen


About the Story

galipeauThis story comes from the most important and joyous time of my life. Though I grow up in New Jersey, having a summer place in Rhode Island next to my relatives, including Uncle Ish, was one of the best things my parents did for our family. My father commuted on a weekly basis from New Jersey to Rhode Island. The summer experiences and family love deeply shaped who I am today.

About Ken

Ken Galipeau is a collector of stories, songs and poems that touch our hearts and funny bone. The stories and songs in Ken’s eclectic repertoire celebrate the wonder, absurdity, pain and joy of life, imagination, and the soul.  He presents them with energy, enthusiasm, and a sincerity that makes you tingle through and through–the feeling you have after a belly laugh or a chill in the bones from a unsettling ghost story. Ken tells for all ages and specializes in family events and campfires.

Contact Ken

Phone: 973-983-6611


Unexpected Guests

told by Joanna Demarest

Click to listen


About the Story

demarestLove of family, country, and the men who fight to preserve our freedom are the central themes of Unexpected Guests, a true-life tale of a 16 year old girl and her encounter with 8 Marines on a Florida beach.  This humorous tale tells how, from that chance meeting, a family tradition was started of sharing Thanksgiving with men in uniform as a “home away from home”.

“One of the greatest joys of telling this story is that I have, on numerous occasions, had men come up to me afterward and say, thank you, I was one of those men that served that a family shared their holidays with or will reminisce about their time spent on the bases around Pensacola,” says Joanna.  “It truly brings joy to my heart knowing that I have made a connection with those who have or are serving!”

About Joanna

From fairies to ghosts to historical women, Joanna Demarest will take you on an adventure as she spins tales old and new.  She has been telling stories to children and adults for over 20 years.  It all started when after reading every book on her daughter’s bookshelf she wanted something new, so she started creating fresh stories of her own. This passion for sharing her stories has been fueled by her nineteen moves within the US and overseas. Joanna specializes in American, Historical, Traditional and Southern Tales, Ghost Stories, Storytelling Workshops, and her own unique Ladybug Stories©.

Contact Joanna

Phone: 412-915-6976


Simon and Susannah

told by Sheila Arnold

Click to listen


About the Story

arnold“Simon and Susannah” was my signature story when I was a Storyteller at Colonial Williamsburg (VA).  When I first read the story, there was no “attachment” to Virginia, so I added the part about the Blue Ridge Mountains.  When I started telling full time, I was telling “Simon and Susannah” at almost every show, often times on request from those who saw me previously.  This is the story that reminds me that people love to hear a good story over and over and over again.  If you hone a story, let it grow inside you, and share, share, share, you’ll have a story that feels like Home.  I was invited to National Storytelling Festival’s Exchange Place for 2013 and I struggled about what to tell, until I was reminded, do what is your best and what you love; for me that was “Simon and Susannah”.  I hope you enjoy this story, it’s a good friend, and hope will become your friend as well.  You can find this story in Julius Lester’s book, “The Last Tales of Uncle Remus”.

About Sheila

Sheila Arnold provides Storytelling Programs, Historic Character Presentations, Professional Development Training for Educators, Christian Monologues and Inspirational/Motivational Speaking for schools, churches, museums and organizations throughout the US.  She has been a full time Teller since 2013 and tells a variety of stories.  She has two CD’s, “Mini, Many, Minnie Tales” and “Hands Wide Open” both available on website.  Sheila will be Telling at 1st Annual Culpeper Storytelling Festival (VA) and works with Darci Tucker in hosting the TuckerArnold Storytelling Concert and Weekend Retreat, Williamsburg, VA.

Contact Sheila



Nickels for Dimes

Told by Linda Goodman

Click to listen


goodmanChildren have a tendency to be selfish, and I was no exception.  As long as I got what I wanted, I did not care about anything else.

My baby sister Evelyn, on the other hand, always put the interests of others above her own. Like the character of Melanie in Gone With the Wind, Evelyn was almost too sweet to be true. She taught me more about kindness than anyone else I have ever known.

In this story, I am the trickster. In spite of my devious machinations, however, my sister’s innocence holds the power in this tale. I am delighted to see such innocence rewarded, even if the reward comes at my own expense.

About Linda

Author/Storyteller/Playwright Linda Goodman performs nationwide and has been published in numerous anthologies.  Her one-woman show and book, Daughters of the Appalachians, has also been performed as a play by theaters around the country. Her CDs include Jessie and Other Stories and Bobby Pins (Winner of 3 Storytelling World Winner Awards).

“More than just a writer and teller of tales, Goodman has the uncanny ability to become her characters. A vengeful girl, a bigoted father, a store owner who nightly gave milk to a haint (ghost) — Goodman showed us all these people by changing her voice and body language.”
–Beth Surdut, The Harvard Spirit

Contact Linda

phone: 804-687-6341 or 704-256-9954