Storytelling is as old as time. It’s how we share our history, wisdom, and experience with the world. Elders across the generations use storytelling to pass on the things they know, the things they’ve seen, and the mysteries still to be explored by those who are willing to listen. Storytelling is also a way to help us expand our understanding of the world and ourselves. It refreshes our perspective and reminds us that people have varied experiences and particular understandings of the world. There isn’t any one way to be human—storytelling reminds us of that. n nNeighborhoods are a perfect place to host storytelling events because they are full of people from all walks of life. It is a great way to move past small talk and get to know the people who live around you. This can lead to a deeper care and concern for one another. It’s often through storytelling that folks find common ground and build relationships on shared interests or history.

We chose to call our neighborhood community garden the “Story Garden” for this very reason. We host a variety of storytelling events in this space to remind each other of the individual stories we carry and the story we are creating together as a community. It’s a way to recognize and honor how every one of us holds knowledge that is important and valued in the collective neighborhood.

How exactly do you plan a storytelling event in your neighborhood? There are many examples out there, but I will share what has worked for our little Story Garden. First, we always begin with a theme. This prompts people to focus on specific memories, experiences, and stories to share. It also helps us find a featured storyteller, which aids in promoting the event and ensures we have someone who will share.

We also promote our storytelling events on social platforms, on the sandwich boards in our garden, and by word of mouth. We’ve learned over the years that creating a space that folks feel invited into is key. We begin each storytelling event by setting the scene, using our five senses.

    1. Sight – We hang lights to create a layer of enchantment at twilight. We write on our sandwich boards and put them out during daylight hours day so the folks driving by will see an event is happening later. We hang bunting between trees; we put out tablecloths; we have a kid tent with fun activities. When you drive by, you can see that something special is happening and folks are curious to join.
    2. Sound – We play music as we are setting up and keep it on during storytelling. Hearing music gets people looking out their windows to see what’s going on. It lifts the mood and adds a foundational layer to the experience. Make sure you put together a pre-selected playlist that is diverse and clean to draw in a diversity of folks.
    3. Taste – Snacks are important to keep folks tuned in, kids entertained, and teenagers happy. We offer a variety of snacks to limit trash and we compost waste in the garden whenever possible. Folks have a range of dietary restrictions; therefore, try to offer a little something for everyone. Plus, who doesn’t love free food? So having some available is a nice enticement!
    4. Smell – When folks smell food cooking on a grill or the aroma of a bonfire, they are drawn into that space. It is an easy and inviting way to attract people to what you’re doing, and that’s what you are going for. If you are offering a full meal, use a charcoal grill. If not, try your hand at a bonfire. After all, who doesn’t like sharing and/or listening to stories around a crackling fire?
    5. Touch – I think a lot of people enjoy doing something with their hands when first meeting and socializing with new people. It’s not just children who want to color, play with clay, do a puzzle, or fidget with a cube or spinner. Playing lawn games or doing table activities is a great way for people to ease into conversation with others. These hands-on activities give them something to do while they’re finding their comfort zone with strangers.

No matter what kind of community you live in, our personal stories bring us together. They help us build bridges across cultures, economics, language, and religion. Stories can lead us into fellowship with each other. They help us deepen our care and concern for one another!