A new book published by Michigan State University, My Eyes Feel the Need to Cry, Stories from the Formerly Homeless, touches on the unique expressiveness of storytelling to nurture emotional well-being. It tells of a program run by the Michigan Historical Museum and Advent House ministries working with people in communities that have been – or are – experiencing homelessness and trauma to use the resources of the Historical Museum to tell their own stories. Once a week for four months, they gathered at the Historical Museum to describe life as they knew it, learn historical research, paint, gain confidence, and fully understand the value of their experience. The book is a record of their journey.
The driver of the program and the compiler of the book was Martha Bloomfield, who has recently retired from the Museum. “My idea was to initiate a program with Advent House Ministries, a day shelter for homeless and at-risk adults, to help them with 'soft skills' -- learning about their personal and social history through artifacts, personal historical documents and photographs, discovering their stories and learning to communicate them through talking, writing and painting,” said Bloomfield.
“While the book features these people's stories, people who experienced homelessness, it addresses some important ideas about the causes of homelessness and stresses the idea that everyone has a story from all walks of life which can be expressed through stories, art and music. It also talks about the fact that we all have prejudices and tend to stereotype others. Part of the purpose of this book is not only to create greater awareness about the homeless but also innovative solutions to help them to help themselves.” As a tool for learning, storytelling can heighten a person’s ability to communicate thoughts and feelings with greater clarity. This awareness is a gentle way to support daily life skills, such as resolving interpersonal conflict, becoming verbally proficient, and developing the imagination to accomplish life goals.
The program was successful because most of those who participated took it seriously and followed through. “During the four month program, we averaged six people per class. When participants completed the program, they were asked to evaluate their experience. In the evaluation, 75 percent of participants reported a better understanding of how Michigan’s history connects with their personal story. Over 85 percent were able to create a chart of their personal histories, with 90 percent reporting that they had a better understanding of their personal and family histories. Finally, 65 percent of participants were able to give specific examples of four different media they could use to tell their stories that involved artifacts, writing, storytelling, art and technology,” said Allyson Bolt, LLMSW, Director of Good Work! Employment Program at Advent House Ministries.
Martha Bloomfield felt compelled to compile the book because the experience was so moving. “Initially, they had not believed that their stories about homelessness and deprivation and their success in rehabilitation and obtaining GEDs were important to others than family and friends. Taking this giant step and following through were significant. They each had a vision for change and made a profound choice to continue to effect the direction of their lives providing another avenue on their journey of hope to reinforce their experiences to become more literate, self-aware, self-sufficient, productive and positive. They may be their only family member to brave this new journey.”
Communication is one of the crucial steps toward building self-confidence and helps people improve their linguistic problem solving ability. By applying this technique, people can construct personal values for their lives going forward on their journey to recovery. “Participants said they gained new insights about family history and historical connections, and made social connections among program participants and staff and created a feeling of belonging. Some reestablished family connections, received family support in recognition of their quest for positive engagement and rebuilt damaged family relationships. This empowered them to exert greater control over and make positive change in their personal lives that sometimes precipitated a renewed appreciation for life.”
Martha Bloomfield’s book is available here http://msupress.org/books/book/?id=50-1D0-263E#.UlWpqGTk_Tk
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