The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is supporting Our Story NH with grants from its Community Crisis Action Fund, a special fund established in March 2020 to raise funds to help New Hampshire weather the pandemic.
This article is being shared with permission from the Granite State News Collaborative, “a collective of more than 20 local media, education and community partners working together to produce and share news stories” of critical importance to the Granite State. The Charitable Foundation has supported the Collaborative since its founding in 2019 and provides ongoing operating support. To learn more, visit www.collaborativenh.org.
Over the past two years, Sarah McPhee and Kirsten Durzy have heard scores of stories about Granite Staters’ lives during the pandemic. There was the new mom who delivered her child at the height of the pandemic, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer who had to muster a socially distanced support system, and the health care worker who spoke about his pain after caring for COVID victims.
“They run the gamut from expressing the mundane pieces of life that carried on, to very tragic, to very inspiring stories,” said Durzy. “Which is what we were hoping for: not only survival stories, but triumph, tragedy, and the whole gamut of this experience during this time.”
The stories are part of Our Story NH, a project funded with a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. McPhee is an adjunct professor of public health at Southern New Hampshire University, and Durzy, who previously worked with the Department of Health and Human Services, is a consultant doing public health and equity work. As co-leaders of Our Story NH, they approach storytelling through a public health perspective, as a way to help people process their experiences, while also creating a record of life during the pandemic.
Since 2021, McPhee and Durzy have collected more than 100 stories from New Hampshire residents who they met through on-site story stations and virtual storytelling workshops.
But they’d like to increase that number. Recently, they launched an online form that allows people to share their stories quickly by answering fill-in-the-blank style questions from their computer. This approach is called the Concentric Stories Initiative.
“They are all responding to the same prompts,” McPhee said. “Each one is going to be unique and beautiful. They intersect, in different ways.”
The form only takes a few minutes to fill out. McPhee and Durzy hope that will lower a barrier that keeps people from sharing their stories.
“We recognize that people’s time is so valuable and hard to come by,” McPhee said.
The launch of the new initiative coincides with the third anniversary of the pandemic state of emergency declaration, coming up on March 13.
That milestone, McPhee said, is a perfect time for people to reflect on their experiences.
People who participate in the concentric Stories Initiative will have the option to share their stories on the Our Story NH website or with press partners, including the Granite State News Collaborative. But they can also opt to keep their stories private.
So far, only about 60% of participants with Our Story NH have chosen to include their stories in the historical archive that will come out of the project. That’s OK, because the first priority of the project is to make space for telling stories, which can be healing in and of itself, Durzy said.
However, those who choose to share, provide a powerful testament to this time in New Hampshire’s history.
“All of the data in the world hasn’t been as impactful to thinking about what we did right and what we did wrong, as listening to these first-person accounts from people,” Durzy said.