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Meet Bill Thompson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bill Thompson.

Bill, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I moved to LA to be a producer. My boss needed help at his non-profit so he asked me to volunteer on my lunch break. I was nervous. I knew I’d be helping a kid tell their story but I hadn’t been in the same room as a ten-year-old since I was ten. Then I met Jackie. She was Latina. Struggling to learn English. VERY shy. The only thing we had in common was we were both terrified of each other. But I kept showing up. And she started opening up. Jackie began writing a story of a girl whose family is about to be evicted but she has an imaginary friend that is a magical, flying unicorn who lets her sell rides to her friends which raises enough money to keep them in their home.

And after seven weeks of writing, it was time for The Big Show; professional actors auditioned for Jackie and she cast them in their parts – including the flying unicorn. After they brought her story to life, it was amazing to watch this shy girl strut down a red carpet to a standing ovation from her friends, her teacher, her mom. Jackie was transformed. And so was I. In that moment I realized these are the stories I wanted to bring to life. I quit my job and came to work at Young Storytellers. That was 13 years ago.

That’s quite the dramatic start to your storytelling career. Clearly it’s worked out for you, but what were some of the struggles along the way?
I took over as Executive Director in the middle of the Great Recession in late 2008 when the Dow was plummeting to 6500. It was a scary time. We had to batten down the hatches, take voluntary pay cuts, trim our staff, and weather the storm but thankfully we were stronger on the other side. Running a non-profit – especially without a background in business – is difficult.

Thankfully, I was able to receive an incredible amount of training and support from the Annenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Executive Service Corps, Social Venture Partners, and Stanford University. I am also a Fellow with an incredible leadership community called City Scholars – their support has helped me move Young Storytellers from a state of survival to one of success.

What should we know about Young Storytellers?
Young Storytellers sparks creative self-discovery through storytelling. Our programs highlight young people as the center of their own narratives, emphasize that their stories matter, and celebrate their unique voices as the ones telling them.

In elementary school, we use storytelling to help young people explore their creativity and imagination. In middle school, we use storytelling to explore their goals for the future and what challenges might stand in their way. In high school, we use storytelling to explore the impact their voice can have in their community – and, more broadly, the world.

Young Storytellers work towards a future where young people experience the impact that their thoughts, feelings, and words can have on the world in which they live.

Why is teaching storytelling important?

Many of our students are struggling academically so we are providing them with a positive educational experience that they can build on. Most importantly, they learn that they inherently already have the skills they need to succeed.

We are using the arts – specifically creative writing and live performance – as a way for young people to develop themselves fully by focusing on their social-emotional needs.

As our economy relies increasingly on automation and algorithms, it is more important than ever to develop the skills that make us uniquely human. Storytelling is the most universal of these skills.

Connection to one another is more important than ever in our divided society. Telling our story and listening to the stories of others increases our empathy for one another.

Understanding core storytelling techniques and narrative structure enables young people to influence the thoughts and behaviors of the people around them. For historically disenfranchised people, storytelling can equal power.

Storytelling drives social movements. Simply put storytelling = change.

And what impact have we had?

96% of teachers noticed an improvement in classroom participation and academic confidence.

95% of teachers noticed an improvement in the writing skills of their students.

96% of Young Storytellers felt more creative.

92% of Young Storytellers felt more confident in their writing abilities and used what they learned in English class.

80% of Middle School Young Storytellers felt that the program helped them consider the feelings and views of others.

Story Lab Partner Teachers reported that students showed more mutual respect and understanding for their classmates.

96% of High School Young Storytellers better understood how to influence people using different modes of persuasion.

We need more than 2500 volunteers each year to provide our programs to public schools across Los Angeles. Please join us by applying to be a mentor or a performer at www.youngstorytellers.com/volunteer. Join us as we raise the voices of young people across Los Angeles, one story at a time.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Our programs would not be possible without the incredible passion and generosity of the more than 2,500 volunteers who provide our programs directly to students each year. Since our inception, they have donated more than $4 million through in-kind instructional support in classrooms across Los Angeles.

Some of them have worked with us for more than 20 years! We also have an energetic and hard-working staff of 13 who create curriculum and recruit, train and retain our volunteer army. Finally, we benefit from an engaged and passionate Board of Directors of 16 who drive our strategy and raise the necessary funding so we can provide our programs free of charge to more than 3,000 students in over 80 schools each year.

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Image Credit:

Brandon Moningka & Kristine Ambrose

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