The Journey of a “Storyteller”

Six months ago the Newman’s Own family welcomed me with open arms (and the best of cardboard cutouts). The following day, I began my fellowship at SeriousFun Children’s Network. SeriousFun is a global community of 30 camps and programs for children living with serious illnesses and their families; the support center (where I work) provides program and development support across the network. My role there is storyteller.

The transition from my undergraduate life at the University of Connecticut to a Fellow working in marketing and communications has been a whirlwind. I graduated in May as a double major in Economics and Cultural Influence on Youth Development. The latter is a major I designed with focus on the ways cultural narratives, circumstance, and media shape human development. I left school understanding the power of narrative—its ability to effect everything from which sneaker we buy to what we remember most easily, and of course worldview. My work at SeriousFun has taught me that narrative is especially relevant in the digital age of rising media consumption.

Thanks to SeriousFun, I’ve been fortunate to take an introductory course on digital marketing, as well as put this into practice via social media and content development initiatives. Since I began in June, my understanding of digital interactions and consumer experiences has largely shifted. I never imagined the layers of psychology, consideration, and strategy that go into creating digital communications. Or how much of marketing is rooted in meaningful storytelling and relationship building, by image and post rather than character and chapter.

My time as a Newman’s Own Fellow has also been an incredible opportunity to learn about the nonprofit sector, the camp world, and the effects of health challenges on children and families. This summer, I had the chance to volunteer as a cabin counselor for a week at North Star Reach, a SeriousFun camp in Michigan.

As an able-bodied, healthy 22 year-old, it’s been easy to forget the privilege I have as I move through the world. I’m not merely referring to the challenges stairs, unleveled walkways, and doorways can present, though the lack of accessibility within public spaces is staggering. I’m also referring to the emotional and psychological trauma of spending weeks, sometimes months, in a hospital. Or the embarrassment a child feels when taking pills at every meal among peers who don’t. Or the struggle of loving one’s body wholly, surgical scars included, in a society whose mainstream media only values one kind of body perfection. The stigma, fear, and isolation faced by those living with serious medical conditions is exactly why the work I’ve witnessed at SeriousFun camps and programs is so important for thousands of kids and families each year. Shared laughter is a powerful healer. As is free play!

If my time at camp or SeriousFun has affirmed anything else, it’s the value of intentionality. Camp is a place where there’s a lot of focus on designing child-driven programming, on creating accessible and adaptive spaces, and on fostering inclusive communities. My work in marketing is rooted in intentional storytelling and authentic community-building, too. Wherever we are, I hope we can intentionally build more inclusive narratives —to look squarely at those we uphold, to re-imagine the bedtime tales we tell our children, and to reshape binaries into spectrums. Because we live in a world as diverse and strikingly human as our stories ought to be.

-Sarah

Here is the link to the North Star Facebook Post of the featured image: North Star. Our Fellow Sarah is the one leading the Dancing Line!