It may sound like the beginning of an off-color joke, but it’s a serious question that the co-founders of Cincy Stories can answer, because they’ve met each of them.

Executive Director Shawn Braley and Creative Director Chris Ashwell know that these people—with such diverse interests and backgrounds—share geographical space in central Cincinnati. That’s not where their connections end, however: They all have stories to tell and much to learn from one another.

The idea of a storytelling event series began in November 2014, when Braley, a non-denominational pastor, was brainstorming about connecting with his unchurched or “de-churched” neighbors. He knew they wouldn’t be interested in any religious activities hosted by Sanctuary Over the Rhine, a church plant Braley co-leads. He would have to find another way, and it might not look like anything he’d ever seen a church do.

Braley said listening to StoryCorps and The Moth podcasts—hearing strangers’ stories that caused him to empathize with those whose lives looked much different from his—inspired him to consider another approach to community building and outreach. Braley and Greg Knake, a fellow leader at Sanctuary OTR, hosted the first Cincy Stories live event at a nearby pub on February 3, 2015. That night, Knake and Braley saw potential in recording and sharing the stories from the stage. That’s how Ashwell got involved.

At the time, Braley worked at a restaurant with Ashwell, but they didn’t spend time together outside of work. That changed when Braley asked if Ashwell would be interested in filming one of the events. Soon after, the group began asking how these life stories might generate interest and affect change in their community.

‘You Still Let Me Tell My Story?’

In 19 months, Cincy Stories has expanded far beyond their expectations. They now host a website and YouTube channel with archived footage of live events and stories produced from individual interviews. In June 2016, with the help of a grant from a local foundation, Cincy Stories opened an interactive story gallery at a newly remodeled storefront in the Trevarren Flats development in Walnut Hills. Through various media, the space showcases stories of the people who live and work in the neighborhood, and it also houses a “story booth” for recording. Visitors can drop in for free coffee, water, air conditioning, and conversation. On occasion, Cincy Stories partners with local vendors to provide free meals, and periodically they host listening events. (link to remainder of article)