'Everybody's Story Matters:' StoryCorps Pays A Virtual Visit To Boise

May 22, 2020

Credit StoryCorps

StoryCorps, the Morning Edition fixture which preserves and share's the stories of our lives, is directing its microphones toward Idaho this month. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, the iconic StoryCorps MobileBooth needed to "shelter-in-place" this spring; but Idahoans are indeed still participating in a once-in-a-lifetime moment via the history-making StoryCorps Virtual.

StoryCorps Site Manager Ava Ahmadbeigi visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about how the virtual experience is just as intimate as the MobileBooth — perhaps more so. 

“There's an intimacy of being able to see the backgrounds of their homes: where they are, where they're sitting, the cup of coffee or cup of tea, and it brings us into their space.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition, on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I'm George Prentice. StoryCorps. The very phrase elicits, well you tell me. As sigh, certainly a smile, and on more than a few Fridays, some laughter through a few tears. The iconic StoryCorps broadcast then was supposed to have been in Idaho this spring, but then, well, everything changed, didn't it? But no worries, StoryCorps virtual is underway. And Boise is its virtual stop now. It's pretty exciting. And we would love to hear from you and participate in this. But first, we're going to hear from Ava Ahmadbeigi, and she is Site Manager for story StoryCorps. She joins us via Zoom. Good morning.

AVA AHMADBEIGI: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: The magic of StoryCorps has, well for me, has always been its intimacy. So how do you maintain that intimacy, how do you possibly even dial up that intimacy in a virtual environment?

AHMADBEIGI: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, the intimacy that you're speaking of it's almost so easy to create in the booth. In the trailer that we have folks come in and sit down in a very small, intimate recording studio, and the intimacy is created in that space. But now, everyone is distanced. They're far apart. Some of our participants who joined the virtual are in one place, speaking via one computer together. But, many of them are in different parts of the city, joining via our online platform that is much like a Zoom chat. And so, there's a different kind of intimacy. There's an intimacy of being able to see the backgrounds of their homes:  where they are, where they're sitting, the cup of coffee or cup of tea, and it brings us to their space.

So, what we're actually trying to do now is, in this moment when we're not able to be in Boise, when we're not able to invite people into our space to connect, and when people need connection the most, we are trying to bring people together to connect from their own spaces. And that kind of creating room for us to come together in that way, and for our trained facilitators to be there and guide people through their conversation to create a sense of occasion for them, that's a whole new, different kind of intimacy for us.

Credit StoryCorps

PRENTICE: So, could you share a story or two of some of the stories you're hearing lately?

AHMADBEIGI: Yeah. There's definitely, this pandemic has definitely affected people in a range of different ways. One of the stories I heard last week was between a couple that had been long distance before this, but decided to be living together for this period of time, because long distance didn't make sense for them anymore. And they were reflecting on just how much their relationship has changed. And I anticipate that a lot of people are going through a similar situations with their significant others. And then, we also have people taking this moment to not only think about what's changing for them now, but also reflect on what has happened in their lives. What's been important for them and what they've shared together.

And we've got people coming in and talking about what they would talk about in the StoryCorps booth as it exists traditionally, which is remembering a loved one, or taking a moment to reflect on something significant that they have shared together. We've had several people reflecting on the different things that they've survived, whether it be genocides or hurricanes, or just things that have really caused trauma in their lives, and that they are thinking about again now in this moment of significant change for this entire country and the world.

PRENTICE: And everybody's story matters.

AHMADBEIGI: Everybody's story matters.

PRENTICE: Okay. So, convince our listeners of how user-friendly this is, and why it's not that much of a reach.

AHMADBEIGI: Oh, it's not that much of a reach at all. So all you need is a computer. Ideally, you can use other things, like tablets or phones as well, but a computer is really going to give you the best experience, and you need internet connection. Once you have those two things, you pick an interview partner, somebody that you're close with, somebody that you want to have an intentional conversation with, and don't be afraid if you don't know already what you want to talk about, we can guide you through that. And then you go online to our website or to Boise State Public Radio's website, and you sign up for an appointment. Once you do that, we call you. Confirmation calls, tech calls, to make sure that you're ready for the appointment time. And once you join, you just join online with your computer and your internet access, and the facilitator that works for StoryCorps guides you through the whole process.

PRENTICE: I can't wait to hear the stories of people who are, well, a few blocks away, a few miles away. The stories I've been hearing lately on StoryCorps, the lump in my throat has just grown a little bit more in the last couple of months. But it's the best part of Friday.

AHMADBEIGI: Yeah, I agree.

PRENTICE: I have no doubt you work very hard. Can I also assume you're blessed to be doing what you're doing? What a great job you must have.

AHMADBEIGI: I'm absolutely blessed. Absolutely. To be a facilitator in this space and to witness people's stories, witness them recalling and building connections with each other. As a stranger who's creating that space for them, there's nothing more special.

PRENTICE: She is Ava Ahmadbeigi, Site Manager for StoryCorps. Have a great Friday, Ava. Thank you so much.

AHMADBEIGI: Thank you, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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