Healing through storytelling


Teens in the Y’s Story Squad digital storytelling program are finding the structure they need to process trauma and analyze the causes of and potential solutions to community violence. Their stories include deeply personal anecdotes, poetry, explorations of issues and places, and profiles of important people in their lives.

“Young people of color in low-income neighborhoods are typically excluded from larger narratives about issues in their communities,” says former Youth Safety and Violence Prevention operations coordinator Grant Buhr, who founded the program in 2014. “The fact that we can elevate their voices about their experiences is very valuable.”

Story Squad’s 15-week curriculum is rooted in structured narrative therapy designed to foster self-reflection, critical thinking, and artistic expression. Teens develop skills in interviewing, creative writing, audio editing, media literacy, story construction, and verbal communication.

Kevon and his older brother, Efferson, co-wrote a rap called “Growing Up Without a Dad.” They hope their story will help kids who share their experience of having an absent parent feel heard, understood and connected. “Some people are shy to get things off their backs, and that’s what this program is all about,” says Kevon.

Daniel was referred to the YMCA by his school counselor two years ago. Still reeling from losing his brothers to gang violence, he started acting out and heading down a self-destructive path. His poem, titled “Just Another Day,” recounts the afternoon when a friend was shot nine times.

That’s what I’ve been through,” Daniel says, “but now, I’m trying to be my best and keep going on forward.” He hopes to someday enlist in the Marine Corps and also study journalism so he can continue sharing the true stories behind the headlines that come from his neighborhood.

Story Squad is currently offered in the Humboldt Park, Little Village, Pilsen and South Chicago neighborhoods, as well as the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Grant hopes to expand the program to other YMCA sites and reach even more youth in the future.

Story Squad video from the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival