Defining moments

Through video storytelling, students share the experiences that most shaped their lives

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Connor Sullivan and Emily McDonald, both of Camas, and Jaycob Bailey of Washougal (left to right), all took part in the recent digital storytelling showcase, held at Fort Vancouver High School. Through the project, Clark County youth shared their life stories. "They were deep," Sullivan said of the videos. "They have a lot of impact to them."

Throughout life, there are defining moments.

These are the events in our lives that shape who we are. Our personalities, our fears, our joys, and our insecurities are defined by these kinds of transforming experiences that help guide our interactions with the world.

Most people probably don’t think much about the cumulative impact of these moments. They may not even recognize their significance at the time they happen.

But 15 youth from Clark County’s Juvenile Recovery Court and the “Strong Teens Against Substance Hazards and Abuse” peer education program recently took the time to do just that.

The teens looked inside themselves and captured their life stories through digital storytelling. The results of their efforts were unveiled during an event held Wednesday, at Fort Vancouver High School.

Modeled after a program taught at the Center for Digital Storytelling, an international non-profit organization based in Berkeley, Calif., the participants were asked to select a story from their lives, dig deep, and look past labels like “offender,” “addict,” “goody-goody” and “foster child.”

“We never struggled to come up with ideas,” said Angela Zahas, prevention specialist with Clark County’s Department of Community Services and a facilitator on the video project. “The youth want to tell their stories.”

According to Zahas, the digital storytelling workshops featuring technological and therapeutic components were held during the course of three days earlier this month for a total of 18 hours of instruction. It was a fast-paced process.

“On day one we shared examples of digital storytelling and talked about ideas,” Zahas said. “The story itself had to be 300 words, and by day two they were recording and fine tuning.”

A completed digital story looks like a short film, narrated by the youth with images, sounds, music and video.

Camas High School senior Connor Sullivan, 18, a member of S.T.A.S.H.A., served as a youth facilitator on the project.

“It was cool seeing everyone come in at first, and not knowing what they were getting into,” he said. “Then, they came out with these polished stories. Seeing it all come together was really cool. I was glad to be part of it.”

The process began with the teens sitting down and considering a series of “prompts,” or questions — an effort to get ideas flowing. Some prompts included “I have a scar from…,” “The last time I cried was…,” and “If I could undo one thing I’ve done it would be…” They then shared their answers with the group.

Washougal High School sophomore Jaycob Bailey, 16, said the answers to such personal questions were not difficult to share.

“You get to know the people you are around in the group,” he said. “You know you are in a safe place.”

Bailey’s digital story focused on his mother’s drug abuse, and its impact on him and his family. She was often absent for weeks at a time.

Bailey said sharing his narrative was therapeutic.

“It was a way to get my story out, and have other people hear it,” he said. “I just thought it would be a good time to tell people about it, and what I was feeling. It feels better each time you tell it.”

Bailey planned on sharing the content of his video with his mother prior Wednesday’s event, which according to Zahas is a requirement of the project.

“She doesn’t know yet, but I will eventually tell her,” Bailey said during an interview earlier this month. “I want her to see it.”

Emily McDonald, 14, is a freshman at Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, but lives in Camas. Her digital story focuses on the ramifications of her mom’s decision to move the family to Vancouver from Portland, leaving her father and some other negative influences behind. She was 8 years old at the time.

“It’s about how I’ve now turned it into a good thing in my life,” explained McDonald, whose video is filled with images depicting the power of strong friendships.

Zahas said the digital storytelling project is a valuable experience.

“I believe in how empowering telling stories can be and I also believe in giving youth voices and tapping into their wisdom,” she said. “They are so wise.”