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The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri

2001 - 2004

giving the Springfield community a window to its diversity through the life stories of ethnic elders

The Ethnic life Stories Project ("ELSP") brought people together in the ancient tradition of oral storytelling, of giving and receiving, a dance of intertwined hearts during which all participants are transformed.

The project grew from the experience of one man whose own life story was heard. He had long sought a way to bring attention to and to honor the rich cultural diversity of Springfield. Gathering the life stories of community elders who were born in other countries became that way.

A Blueprint

Every project participant volunteered his/her time. Each storyteller was paired with a story keeper, who listened, recorded, and transcribed the story. Other volunteers took the rough transcripts and edited them, inserting pictures and reviewing them with each storyteller. Printed copies of each story were given to libraries throughout the community. Each storyteller could also request and pay for an unlimited number of copies for his/own personal use.

An elder himself now at 85, project leader Jim Mauldin spent 20 hours/week for over 3 years building community and accomplishment among the 80 participants.

The Participants

Storytellers ranged in age from 34 to 85. They came to the US from 30 different countries, represented 22 native languages, and told of wide-ranging life experiences. For some, their coming was escape from oppression. For others, education or economic opportunity was their inspiration. They were educators, businessmen, artists, physicians, workers and community volunteers.

Story keepers were as diverse as their tellers. Some were retired; others worked full time in education, health care, social services and ministry. In the third year of the project, some story keepers had earlier been storytellers. Story keepers received training, an interview guide/workbook created especially for the Project, and all needed recording materials.

A third phalanx of volunteers handled story editing, insertion of photographs, and preparation for printing, as well as the creation of promotional materials for the Project.

Creating Community

Throughout the Project participants gathered to feast on ethnic cuisine and to share each other's stories. Storytellers learned that theirs was not an isolated journey and they grew to admire the courage of their fellows. All made new friends and created, with other project volunteers, a multi-cultural community.

This community project happily coincided with the establishment of a Diversity Center on the campus of Drury University. The Center became a focal point for the Project. In 2001, we gathered to celebrate the dedication of the Center and to present the first 11 stories. Two-and-one-half years later we celebrated the dedication of a brick walkway outside the Center in honor of all ELSP participants. Here we witnessed Taj, displaced from Palestine in 1947, take the hand of Malca, an Israeli born in 1951 just 10 miles from Taj's former family home, saying, "This is the new friend I have made." (Above: Participants in ELSP pose at the dedication of the brick walkway outside The Diversity Center, Drury University, on April 14, 2004.

The Magic of the Process

As one story keeper wrote: "In the light of an evening campfire, one begins to talk and one begins to listen. But it's only an illusion that one is speaker and one is listener. As the teller speaks, he finds he truly hears, for the first time, many things. As the keeper listens, he finds that his heart truly speaks to him, for the first time, of many things. In the oral tradition, giving and receiving are inseparable...It isn't the tolerance of ethnic diversity that is the is the dance of diversity that brings the delight."

Community Partners

The Project had many community partners, all of whom now have copies of the stories. Our heartfelt thanks to: