My love of storytelling began as a child, but it wasn’t until attending Norma Livo’s Storytelling Conference in the 1980s did I realize that people could actually tell stories to real audiences, not just their own children. It was during one of those early conferences that I heard about Germaine Dietsch and her experiences with ‘seniors’ and kids and how she was creating a volunteer storytelling program, called Spellbinders. It sounded charming and interesting, but not especially a program that fit where I was going at that time.
Years later, in 2000, I found myself in a position to think about Spellbinders again and began to envision how older volunteers and children in my community could be enriched in a unique way. Douglas County Library was growing by leaps and bounds and I was charged with finding ways to be engaged with all county agencies. My area of expertise was early and childhood literacy and so working with the school district was a high priority and a natural connection. By this time, away from the library, my engagement in the storytelling world had deepened and my interest in the educational benefits of storytelling had a sharpened focus. I began to think of ways to bring some community partners together to experience and promote the joyful, literacy-enhanced activity of storytelling.
My first step was to meet with Germaine and Al; it was easy to see how supportive they would be. Next, I knew that I would have to ‘sell’ the idea to the school district. In my role on another committee I had met the DCSD volunteer coordinator. It was to her that pitched the idea of a joint project between Douglas County Libraries and Douglas County School District, and it would be called Spellbinders. She loved the idea, but knew the DCSD was very careful about who came into classrooms and how time was used. She set up a meeting between me and the District Literacy Department Director. I came prepared with the first Spellbinder video (VHS) and lots of research showing the benefits of listening, folklore, and connections between generations for children. I expected to make a convincing argument, emphasizing that the Library would recruit and train the volunteers, provide all materials and support for volunteers.
Well, no convincing or arguing was needed. Before I finished my presentation the Literacy Directory said, “What a great idea! This is exactly what we need. We know that children need more listening experiences and that getting to know ‘seniors’ is a very valuable experience. Please go ahead with Spellbinders!”
From that point we drove full steam ahead. With Germaine’s guidance and Douglas County Libraries’ adoption of Spellbinders as an official program with a budget, we developed training materials and plans, advertised for volunteers, and created a system for placing Spellbinders in classrooms. Over the next twelve years, I had the privilege and pure fun of training all our new Spellbinders and maintaining the collaborative relationship with the school district. Countless thank-yous from teachers and children, and many touching tales from Spellbinders about their experiences later I retired. Spellbinders was one of many programs I was sad to leave.
I am happy to say that Spellbinders is still going strong in Douglas County and new people and staff have not needed to be convinced that the program is a wonderful opportunity for young and old.
Priscilla Queen, Storyteller, Early Literacy consultant, and grandmother to 5 grandchildren who love to hear a good story, well told