Volunteer Voices

My time at the Telling Room should really be called “how to cure a year-long writer’s block.” A few years ago, I graduated with a degree in journalism ready to face the world, but instead of a yellow brick road appearing at my feet, it felt like someone had pulled the carpet out from under them. I was lost and working a job I didn’t enjoy, leaving me feeling as though my college degree was forever going to be something I put on my résumé, not something I would actually use. I was surrounded by people who had no interest in writing, literature or even learning, and I found myself losing motivation to do any of the writing I had found so rewarding in college.

Then a year after moving to Portland, I found the Telling Room-or rather it found me. Through a long chain of friend of a friend of a friend connections I’d heard about the Telling Room and decided it was at least worth checking out. I attended a volunteer orientation and never wanted to leave, so I didn’t. I was amazed by how many opportunities there were to get involved and it happened that the Wednesday afternoon “Word Play” fit into my schedule. What I didn’t know then was that it would be the perfect mid-week pick-me-up.

Since starting to volunteer for “Word Play”, I have done everything from color t-shirts for Cultivating Community, to help high school seniors write their college application essays. The work is never the same and sometimes the students are not even the same. I have been given the opportunity to be involved with and help more children than I ever thought I would. And I’ve only really been volunteering for two months.

My favorite memory from these two months is one that has little to do with writing at all. One rainy Wednesday afternoon, there was a small crowd at the Telling Room when I showed up. At the end of the big table there was a middle school girl working furiously on a prompt for a writing contest. She paused occasionally to share her work with one of the Telling Room Interns, gesturing frantically and letting loose with a giggle that bounced around the room. I sat down with her and was quickly given a play-by-play of the independent fundraiser the student had conducted to raise money for victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Her’s was a fantastic and true story, made even more so because the student had no idea how sweet and joyful her actions had been–or how the energy she radiated while telling me about this was slowly affecting the mood of the people around her. Faces brought down by the rainy afternoon were lifted every time she let loose with a furious giggle. Her story finished, we continued to color. I doodled a rainy day landscape while she drew me a comic detailing the story of a happy sun and a grumpy cloud becoming friends. As we took a moment to sort through the marker box to sniff and assess the “smelly markers,” I realized I had a sudden inspiration to write.

It was a feeling so long lost, I almost didn’t recognize it. That afternoon I went home and wrote the first creative, independent piece of writing that I had in over a year. Writer’s block was cured all thanks to the Telling Room. Now when I leave every Wednesday and the staff thanks me for coming and volunteering, I usually respond with a simple “nope, thank you.”

Eliza Stinneford - TR Volunteer