The Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling and Social Impact

Weaving together meaningful stories with those who live them

May 6, 2024


It would be impossible to list all the work done by the Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling and Social Impact, which encompasses everything from Emmy-winning short films to published scholarship to fundraising efforts benefitting the families of children with cancer.

Housed within the Scripps College of Communication, the Storytelling Institute is led by co-director Lynn Harter (professor of Communication Studies) and associate director Joe Bianco (associate professor in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine), along with Tom Hodson, co-director emeritus and Megan Westervelt, chief video producer. With an overarching goal of “catalyzing collective action,” the Institute's work falls into two categories: collaborative storytelling and narrative scholarship.

The hands-on work of storytelling happens with partners including non-profits, granting agencies and private industry. The Institute partners with those clients to tell their stories in a variety of innovative and groundbreaking formats, including short- and long-form digital stories and podcasts.

Narrative scholarship includes research conducted by OHIO faculty and students as well as the promulgation of teaching methods that utilize storytelling to enhance students’ experience and learning.

“The institute’s scholarly initiatives are united by their desire to surface and amplify voices previously unheard or dismissed and in ways that model how to thrive amid hardship," Harter says.

The Institute’s impact and reach were on full display during OHIO Giving Day 2024, when more than 187 donors raised over $25,000. The funds raised on Giving Day will be dedicated to funding student experiential learning opportunities.

“Words fall short of conveying our gratitude for the generosity of those who have supported the Storytelling Institute with their time, talent, and treasure," Harter says about the Giving Day support. "On behalf of the leadership team, we hope our ‘thank you’ will be evidenced in the ongoing work of OHIO students as they learn alongside community members to create more just and joyful communities.”

Student voices: Chuck

Surrounded by brightly-colored puppets, a man juggles three large colorful items

Ph.D. student Chuck Kaminski's work with the Storytelling Institute was something he dreamed about long before he worked there. "I could never have imagined how this story blossomed into my life," Kaminski says.

Chuck W. Kaminski, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Communication Studies, says working with the Storytelling Institute has helped him realize his potential and learn academic research methods as well as practical skills.

"But most importantly," Kaminski says, "my career and life are now hinged on the work that I have done and the skills I have learned working with Lynn, the Storytelling Institute, and Passion Works Studio. I cannot express my gratitude for the Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling and Social Impact, the dedicated work of Passion Works studio, and the intellectual curiosities that have guided those involved." 

In this piece produced by the Storytelling Institute, Chuck Kaminski's experience and personal story are highlighted.

Passion Works Studio

Perhaps the Institute's most recognizable collaboration is with Passion Works Studio. Among many other creative endeavors, the Athens-based community arts center works alongside the Storytelling Institute to chronicle the creation of murals on buildings throughout the Athens community. Passion Works is known for its commitment to using upcycled materials, and students working with the Storytelling Institute get hands-on experience with the studio and its artists. For Passion Works director and Storytelling Institute Community Fellow Patty Mitchell, the partnership is a natural collaboration.

"[The Storytelling Institute] is dedicated to student involvement, video documentation, publishing articles and interpreting our work, making it easier for other communities to replicate," Mitchell says. "Co-Director Dr. Lynn Harter has walked with us for over 21 years and we are grateful for her insight, passion and dedication to experiential learning for Ohio University students."

Passion Works Studio’s partnership with the Barbara Gerald Storytelling Institute is a vibrant example of collaboration between between community and university entities. We are forever grateful to the Institute for the respect they have demonstrated for our mission and their work helping document and amplify our process.

Patty Mitchell, Passion Works director and community fellow with the Storytelling Institute
A group of five people is pictured, with the man in the middle holding a large yellow metal flower

The Institute's leadership team. From left: Lynn Harter, Megan Westervelt, Tom Hodson, Patty Mitchell, Joe Bianco

A large, colorful quilt is hung on a wall. It says "The Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling & Social Impact"

A large quilt hangs at the Institute's entrance. A dedication from the family of Barbara Geralds reads in part: "Our Mom always told us, 'Grow where you are planted.' We believe her dream with the Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling and Social Impact was to help people grow and bloom through shared experiences, healing, teaching and storytelling."

Student voices: Ella

Ella Spremulli is a Communication Studies major in the Honors Tutorial College who says the opportunity to work with the Storytelling Institute came into her life when she was feeling "fairly hopeless" about the prospect of making an impact on her community.

"Through the introduction of narrative and storytelling, I found a way to share my voice and desires in a medium beneficial to myself and others, whether through visual media, writing, or artwork," Spremulli says. "The encouragement of positive transformation guides me through my life as an Ohio University student and as an Athens community member."

Turn it Gold

A large group of people, most wearing Bobcat gear, pose together

During the fall of 2024, The OHIO volleyball team stood in solidarity with Makenzie Simpson (pictured holding a Turn it Gold passion flower) and her family during Makenzie's cancer treatment.

With a mission to raise awareness about childhood cancer and stand in solidarity with impacted families, the Institute organized the "Turn it Gold with Passion" campaign, which brings the non-profit Turn it Gold and 10 OHIO athletic teams together to coordinate Turn it Gold-themed games. The studio also has a Turn it Gold product line with 20 percent of proceeds donated directly to childhood cancer research. 

Patty Mitchell and Lynn Harter narrate the story of the collaboration between Passion Works Studio and the Turn it Gold movement, which yielded a line of gold-colored passion flowers, the signature product of the studio. Mitchell says "they can't keep the flowers in stock" at the hospital gift stores where the flowers are sold.

Student voices: Francis

The students who work with the Storytelling Institute assist with creating content and guiding projects. During his time with the Institute, Francis Ametepey, a graduate student in the Communication and Development Studies program, has worked on collaborative initiatives including Kindness Is Food, Operation Hummingbird, and the Culture, Community, and Connection project.

"As an international student, the Storytelling Institute helped me discover my voice and become a stronger advocate for my fellow international students," Ametepey says. "It taught me the power of storytelling to transform perspectives, create positive impacts, and change the narrative."

Three people record a podcast

Joe Bianco leads podcast with Chuck Kaminski and Tobi Odunsi, doctoral candidates in the School of Communication Studies.

A group of students stand around a table, painting a large yellow mural

The OHIO women’s soccer team paints Turn it Gold decorations at Passion Works Studio.

A group of people gather at a conference table, their attention directed toward an easel in front of them

Lynn Harter and Patty Mitchell meet with students Colin Cameron, Francis Ametepey, and Ella Spremulli.

The Sugar Bush Foundation

One of the Storytelling Institute's longitudinal projects that intersects with Passion Works is a funded partnership with the Sugar Bush Foundation, which works with the Storytelling Institute as a campus partner and Passion Works as a community partner. Now in its fourth year, the Sugar Bush partnership recently provided $50,000 in funding, bringing the total funding to $164,550. 

With more than 110 graduate and undergraduate students working on the project, the Storytelling Institute has produced 25 digital stories for the foundation.

“The Storytelling Institute has transformed the Sugar Bush Foundation by helping us tell our stories, giving students voice to share their experience of working in university-community collaborations, giving us the tools to describe what the Sugar Bush Foundation does, and clarifying our benefit to the university," said Hylie Voss, the foundation's president. "The Sugar Bush Foundation and the Storytelling Institute both amplify the assets of the region, so students become engaged in the region, learning to love this place!"

In this piece produced by the Storytelling Institute for the Sugar Bush Foundation, one of the foundation's core commitments, building on regional assets, is vividly illustrated through interviews with organizations and individuals who have benefitted from their work with the foundation.

Seeing and experiencing first-hand the deeply resonant and transformative power of stories in breaking down preconceived barriers and imagining new possibilities is invaluable.

Colin Cameron, Ph.D. student

Student voices: Colin

Colin Cameron is a Ph.D. student in the School of Communication Studies who, as part of his position with the Storytelling Institute, has worked on the annual "Behind the White Coat" event, which invites students and faculty in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine to tell the stories that carry the most personal and professional meaning for them.  

"Now, at the halfway point in my Ph.D. program at Ohio University, the Storytelling Institute has afforded me countless diverse experiences where community involvement and scholarship are intertwined - fundamentally exemplifying what it means to 'learn by doing,'” Cameron says.

Stay connected

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