Everyone Has a Story to Share

by Lyn Ford

Three women sit together. Two lean in, smiling, actively listening, their eyes following the slightly trembling finger of the third as she points out buttons, patches, and pins covering an old bucket hat.

“He was a fisherman,” the older woman tells her attentive young listeners, who ask her to tell them more. Her voice is soft, reverent. She speaks of her father, who had been a soldier in World War II, and loved to fish.

Nearby, a young man politely asks if he can take a closer look at a photograph of some summer place. His conversation partner nods and carefully hands him her memento. With a quavering voice, she talks about the lake where she learned to swim in the 1940s when she was a little girl. The two talk about memories and family vacations.

All around the large room, high school students and university undergraduates sit with members of an assisted living community, first in a plenary group, then paired in small chat partnerships, as part of a project called the ARISE Program. Its subtitle: Everyone has a story to share.


The project was launched in 2023 in central Ohio. It began as a collaboration of the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA); GrowIN Intergenerational Community Programming; the Ohio State University, and residents of the assisted living and health care center floors of Worthington Christian Village, an adult community for independent living, assisted living, skilled rehab, and long-term care.

In 2024, the project has expanded to include participants served through At Home by High, a neighborhood-based nonprofit that helps people over 50 age in place with support services and community events.

ARISE (short for Arts through Intergenerational Social Engagement) focuses on storytelling and adjacent arts. Its goals are twofold. High school students are given the opportunity to expand their perspectives on aging and older adults, and build intergenerational connections using arts-based wellness tools. Members of the adult-care and retirement communities are given the opportunity to share experiences, strengthen communication skills, improve cognitive health, decrease loneliness and isolation, and increase their overall quality of life.

Group sessions present storytelling in several formats. Shared spoken-word skills are introduced and reinforced in an opening session about the power of stories. Storytelling is explored through music and song, movement and dance, drama, and the act of storytelling itself. Programming is scheduled once a week for five weeks.

My contribution to this project is called “Storytelling through Photos and Objects.” Participants bring photos, found objects, and personal treasures that inspire them to tell a story. To provide a model of what they can do, I share a few short personal stories for their reflection and discussion, as well as photos, illustrations, small tactile items, and printed story prompts.

Students in grades 9-12 apply and are interviewed to participate. Each student accepted into the program receives a travel stipend, and has the opportunity to earn 25 service hours. Among those I worked with were young people interested in volunteerism, storytelling, writing, college prep, and fulfilling a high school requirement for community service. Some are outgoing, some shy, and some are simply curious and willing to learn. By the end of the project, they could tell their own stories with ease, and honor their older story partners by telling something of their stories.

ARISE is supported by a variety of businesses and arts and education organizations that contribute to the larger story of central Ohio as an artistically gifted, empathetic, and neighborly place to live and work for people of all ages and heritages. ARISE is a powerful statement of what storytelling is, and how it can be used to strengthen our communities.

Everyone has a story to share.


Lyn Ford is a storyteller, published writer, Ohio teaching artist, and workshop presenter for the Ohio Arts Council’s Creative Aging Project.  She has worked with the CAPA ARISE Program since its first summer project in 2023.  Lyn is also the recipient of the National Association of Black Storytellers Zora Neale Hurston Award and 2023 Black Appalachian Storytellers Fellowship, and a member of NABS’ Brother Blue Circle of Elders.