Agency Forum generates incredible stories

Telling great stories is an effective way to connect the things we do in the social profit sector with the reason we exist as organizations.  Great stories celebrate our value and illuminate our impact.  Great stories get shared and repeated, in a way that is highly social and absolutely critical.

The 2015 Agency Forum featured a half-day session co-facilitated by Sherry Duncan and myself that built on the storytelling focus at 2014’s event.  Sherry is our new Community Investment Coordinator who is currently working on her masters with a focus on childrens’ experiences with loss through a narrative enquiry approach.  She is an expert storyteller and a gifted facilitator.

Howard Rensler, Executive Director of the Fort McMurray Boys and Girls Club, shared a story about a 4-year-old who asked for a hug one morning.  A little while later she asked for a second hug.

“I asked her why she asked for a second hug,” said Howard.  “She shared with me that her parents had told her that her Poppa was gone and would never be coming back.  She asked me if it would be OK to call me Poppa.  There are several things that are significant here, for me.  First, that she felt comfortable enough in our facility to share what had happened.  Secondly, that she was able to verbalize what she was feeling and what she needed.”

Stories were in abundance as Sherry Duncan had each participant select an object leading into the final activity of the day, a sharing circle.

Doug Manderville, Manager, Regional Programs and Services, Spinal Cord Injury Alberta, shared a very powerful story.  As a young man, he made a poor choice that resulted in living the rest of his life in a wheelchair.  And though he has shared his story with hundreds of thousands of people over the years, he still has moments of doubt as to whether he is making a difference.

He was working a table in the mall one day when a very pregnant lady come up to him.

“Are you Doug?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered, haltingly.

“Don’t move.  Don’t go anywhere.  I have someone you need to meet.”

She ran off to get her husband, a tall lanky fellow.

“Tell Doug your story,” she said when they returned.

The lady’s husband shared that he had heard Doug’s message at a general assembly at his high school, just a few weeks before his graduation.  His message was one of making good choices.

“If you go out drinking and you find yourself in a situation that is unsafe, call your parents and ask them for a ride,” said Doug.  “Oh yes, they’ll be upset having to pick you up in the middle of the night, but they’ll get over it.  And you’ll be alive.”

Two weeks later the young fellow graduated and went out to celebrate as most young people are apt to do.  It was time to go home and he started getting nervous about the condition of the designated driver.  He was about to get into the co-pilot’s seat, his usual spot owing to his long legs, when he changed his mind and decided to call his parents.

“Sure enough, they were super upset,” said the young man.  “But, eventually they got over it.  The car I was about to get in ended up getting t-boned.  I would very likely have been killed.”

That night, sharing the story with his wife, Doug was reminded of the difference he is making.

“You not only impacted that young man,” she said.  “You also impacted the life of that unborn baby and babies yet to come.”

As social profit organizations we impact the trajectory of lives every time we run a program, offer a service or engage with clients.  Agencies who participated in this year’s forum have proven that they are natural storytellers and well equipped to capture and share the stories that matter.




Author: Russell Thomas

​Russell is a marketing and communications professional who has spent 20 years in Wood Buffalo working with the OK Radio Group, Keyano College, Arts Council Wood Buffalo, and now with The United Way of Fort McMurray. A regular blogger, Russell's writing can be seen online ( and in multiple publications. His paintings can be seen in homes and businesses throughout the community. Married to Heather and "Papa" to Dylan and Ben, Russell is a passionate spokesperson for United Way.