StoryLine builds social capital through storytelling

by Keith Barber


The reporter (left) and Cheryl Schirillo stand before the StoryLine bus, a refurbished bookmobile, that houses a state-of-the-art recording studio. (photo by Keith T. Barber)


Social capital isn’t easy to define, but most people know it when they see it. The StoryLine project, launched 18 months ago by the ECHO Network, was created for the sole purpose of building connections and relationships in the Winston- Salem community through the art of storytelling. Over the past 18 months, StoryLine has already collected more than 100 personal stories from Forsyth County residents, said Natasha Gore, executive director of the ECHO Network. Many of those stories have been broadcast locally over Que Pasa 1370-AM, WFDD-FM, WSJS 600-AM, and WSNC- FM. The “ECHO” in ECHO Network stands for “Everyone Can Help Out” and StoryLine fulfills the mission of the nonprofit by increasing interconnectivity among Forsyth residents, which strengthens all aspects of the community, Gore said.


“ECHO as an organization held the value that the act of listening is just as important as acting upon what you might hear,” she continued. “That’s when we came across the StoryCorps model that NPR uses, so we thought, ‘Why can’t we do that here locally?’” Launched in 2003, StoryCorps has recorded and archived more than 30,000 interviews. An unprecedented oral history project, StoryCorps gathers and preserves the personal stories of everyday Americans.

There are distinct differences between StoryCorps and StoryLine, however.

“StoryCorps is oral history but with StoryLine, we wanted people to hear the stories and hear something that we could take off on, and convene people around,” Gore said. “We wanted to demonstrate a problem in our community, so that people can get involved in the solution.”

StoryCorps houses its mobile recording studio in a silver RV camper, while StoryLine utilizes a refurbished bookmobile donated by a private citizen.

I first entered the StoryLine bookmobile on Sept. 30 with my friend, Cheryl, who would serve as my conversation partner. People interested in recording their story on the StoryLine bookmobile are asked to bring a friend or family member. The bookmobile was actually very plush and I could tell the audio equipment was state of the art. Engineer Susan Tague cued Cheryl and we began.

“It’s a very different kind of environment to just sit and think of a story that you want to tell or something you want to think about for 40 minutes and the phone’s not going to ring and no one’s going to interrupt you,” Cheryl said.

Being a close friend, Cheryl knew that the day prior had marked the second anniversary of my father’s passing. She asked me to tell the story of how I heard about my father being admitted to the hospital and rushing to Winston-Salem to see him that night. At first, I was a bit selfconscious having a microphone in front of me, but as I began telling my story, I quickly forgot I was being recorded.

I told Cheryl that I arrived at Baptist Hospital 10 minutes after my father passed away.

“What did it feel like not to have a chance to talk to him?” Cheryl asked. “Did that hit you right away?” I told her that it was nearly four months later before I felt anything. I had just finished my volunteer shift on Day One of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and went to visit a colleague at a film venue.

“I got there, and I said, ‘Where’s Sue?’ and they said, ‘Oh, her father passed away today. She’s driving back to Oregon,’” I recalled.

I told Cheryl how I called Sue to express my condolences. “At some point during the conversation, I couldn’t talk anymore, I just got choked up,” I recalled. “I said, ‘Sue, I just can’t talk; I’ll have to call you back later. Then I went out into the parking lot of the movie theater and just bawled for 20 minutes straight…. It was all the emotion that had been pushed down just below the surface for four months. It was finally that sort of cathartic release.”

And so it went for the next 35 minutes, and when the recording ended I realized the amazing power of telling your own very personal story. That’s the greatness of StoryLine, and why Gore continues to issue the call for storytellers.

“For those who have agreed to share their story, no one has ever come back and changed their mind about having it aired on the radio. They’ve all said, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’” Gore said.

got a story to tell?

Think of a person close to you, a sibling, grandparent, parent, or close friend, with whom you would like to share your story, then contact StoryLine at 336.499.4402 or visit: to make a reservation.