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Posted by JoAnn Turnquist

Reflections of a Story Catcher

December 11, 2015

Love Where You Live

From JoAnn Turnquist:  This week, the Jewish community is celebrating Hanukkah, the annual celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This meaningful holiday brings families together and, whenever families gather, stories are shared. In this week’s “Love Where You Live” blog post, we have the pleasure of hearing from one of our community’s greatest “Story Catchers,” Robin Waites, Executive Director of Historic Columbia. Historic Columbia is helping the Columbia Jewish community share their stories through the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative. This initiative is funded through the Foundation’s Connected Communities grant initiative, an initiative designed to create a more open and welcoming community. I hope you enjoy Robin’s reflections on this initiative and that it brings you closer to our Jewish friends this holiday season.


JoAnn Turnquist


Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative



Reflections of a Story Catcher

By Robin Waites

I am not a storyteller, I am a story catcher

This is a term that I first read as the title to a book by Christina Baldwin.  The subtitle, Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, immediately resonated with me as I came across it when Historic Columbia was embarking on the first phase of the Connecting Communities through History initiative. The project goal was to work with six downtown neighborhoods to research, develop, and promote their respective histories through a co-creative process.  In writing the initial project proposal this seemed all very straightforward.  Stop telling people what their history is and ask them to tell you their stories.  Catch it.  Record it.  Share it.  Great idea, right? 

What I didn’t anticipate in 2007 when we embarked on this journey was that the community might not want to tell us their story.  As an organization Historic Columbia had not yet earned the trust that enables an exchange of confidences.  We had to step back and take the time to build relationships before people were willing to share.  We had to show that once we “caught” a story that we would respect the content and allow it to have its own life.  While this effort took much longer than anticipated, what resulted was a collection of authentic local stories that resonate in the neighborhoods in which we were working but also with other Midlands residents and visitors to the region.

And then something wonderful happened…people who had stories to share started to come to us.  Just over a year ago a representative from the Jewish community contacted us about developing a thematic tour of Jewish sites and stories.  From there a committee of engaged community members and non-profit partners established the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative to take on the project.  The initiative will present vibrant social offerings and to create a more open, welcoming community - a perfect fit with CCCF’s goals for fostering engaged communities.   

Columbia has been my home for most of my 46 years, but it was not until I had the opportunity to work with Historic Columbia that I began to fully appreciate the diversity of stories that are woven together to create the tapestry of this community.  It is a privilege to be trusted with people’s past and pleasure to have the chance to use these stories to make deeper connections. 

As Christina Baldwin notes:

 As long as we share our stories, as long as our stories reveal our strengths and vulnerabilities to each other, we reinvigorate our understanding and tolerance for the little quirks of personality that in other circumstances would drive us apart. When we live in a family, a community, a country where we know each other's true stories, we remember our capacity to lean in and love each other into wholeness.

By Connecting Communities through History I learn to love where I live one story at a time. 

To learn more about Historic Columbia or the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative visit or email


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