Monday, November 30, 2009

Recorded stories and live stories

Here are some stories told on WRPI radio earlier this year:

The Angel's Wings told by Adah

Joha and the Pot told by Toma

The Cracked Pot told by Emily

Mondebaba told by Ritam

Ramadan, a personal story told by Khalafalla

You can hear more stories at

Children at the Well --
Interfaith Youth Storytelling

Sunday, December 13th, 2009, 2 pm

First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, 1221 Wendell Ave, Schenectady, NY

All Welcome- Family, Friends, and Community!

To be followed by an interfaith mixer and home-baked goodies

Donations to benefit our youth program

For further information contact Gert Johnson: 374-0637 or

Thursday, November 19, 2009

CATW: "Global Citizens"!

Complete with fingerprints (probably mine!) here is our sparkling new Global Citizenship Award for Community Outreach that Children at the Well received last night from the International Center of the Capital Region

Khalafalla Osman was on hand to help me accept the award on behalf of all of us. Knowing that dinner was delayed, and being the gentleman that he is, Khalafalla kept his remarks brief. Chaos reigned just a bit because the program was going too long, but Alex Whisenhunt got to tell her story *before* dinner was served. Alex was cool as a cucumber and charmed us with her original tale. Gert Johnson and Mary Murphy were there as well, giving us moral support
(and the occasional "hairy eyeball"! :-).

In his talk, ICCR President Michael Gulotty spoke of a recent visitor with the international leadership program, Mr. Mohammad Mahroof, a London police officer who is active in community organizations and works closely with those that engage at-risk Muslim youth to promote positive behavior and community involvement. By invitation of the International Center, CATW had met with Mr. Mahroof last June. The youth tellers told stories, and then they and parents in attendance had time to answer questions from Mr. Mahroof. Our visitor was so taken with our work that he is now instituting a similar storytelling program in London, for these at-risk students! We were thrilled to hear this- it was news to us!

We were presented with a certificate from Senator Neil Breslin, another honoree in attendance. We were generally celebrated and sought after! Not to mention well fed by the fare from Yono's (Indonesian) Restaurant. The evening was quite an experience for us all, and we hope to build on this success by continuing to make connections with people in our community and internationally, as well, with the help of the International Center.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Letter to tellers from Marni after a great rehearsal with members of the Story Circle of the Capital Region as audience at the Colonie Town Library:

Bravo to you brave storytellers for coming out to strut your stuff before the local story circle. I am bursting with pride.

You are working so hard on your tales, to make your characters clear and unique. You are dealing with EMOTIONS in your tales that will move us, the listeners, to feel our emotions. This is NO SMALL TASK! Thank you for coming out to tell and to learn even more.

After tonight I can feel the emotions in a king who has no heir and wants to find THE right child to come and begin to learn to help him rule.I can feel a shy and discouraged boy AMAZED that HE of all people could be CHOSEN!!!! And perhaps a little in awe of what his simple honesty has brought into his future and even to the future of the people he will rule.

I see a girl who is shy too, but kind, wanting to bring a gift to the Christ Child and amazed that she hears his instructions and witnesses (and hears) a breathtaking sound from the bird she dared to try to heal.

I see a strong and loving teacher affect a boy (who has a little bit of arrogance now that he is top dog in his school). She changes him as does his friendships, those who judge him, and especially his experience of wanting to be a winner, but fearing being a loser. In this end, it is not so much a story of HIM as of pride in his community and the fact that he has represented it well.

I see a young archer brothers wanting to learn, but something gets in their way – except for ONE brother who is both talented, a good student, and perhaps somehow DESTINED to be the greatest archer of his kingdom. And we all come away wanting to FOCUS and CONCENTRATE more in our lives.

And I see a greedy and hardened old rich man transformed first by the hardship of no water and then softened even more by the plight of a poor thristy dog who somehow breaks his hardened heart and teaches him a little generosity.

One woman said as she was leaving – WOW they are so good!!! I have a conflict on 12/13 but I’m going to go try and rearrange my life so I can hear them tell again.
Well done!

OH! And Best of luck, tomorrow night, Khalafalla, as you accept the award for CAW and speak proudly on our behalf. You will be the top of the heap that night. Prep your words, calm your heart, and claim that spotlight as if Sr. Sharifa herself were looking on. And thanks for doing so on behalf of us all.

Monday, November 16, 2009

CATW goes to Tellabration

What fun we had yesterday at Tellabration '09

at Proctor's GE Theatre, Schenectady!

Thanks for inviting us! It was a blast!

So many great stories!

Thanks for the photos, Leo!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Busy week coming's wonderful!!

Just reflecting on how busy our CATW calendar is right now, and what a blessing it all is!

While we continue to get ready for our December 13th performance, all these other things have popped up:

This Sunday, all of our tellers and staff have been invited to attend the annual Tellabration as honored guests of the Story Circle of the Capital District!

Monday, two of our tellers will be involved in taping a show for Channel 16, Community Access Television...telling stories on TV!

Tuesday, the Story Circle has again invited our tellers to rehearse stories before their monthly meeting at the Colonie Town Library. They were a wonderful rehearsal audience last year- patient, supportive...they really gave each teller a boost!

On Wednesday, Gert, Mary and I, with Khalafalla and Alex, will attend the Global Citizenship Award Dinner of the International Center of the Capital honorees!! We are being recognized as Global Citizens!! How about that??

What a wonderful week for Children at the Well!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

As many of you know, Adah and I recently attended and participated in the amazing Interfaith Youth Core's Conference at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL- a small town/suburb just north of Chicago alongside Lake Michigan. I represented Children at the Well in a panel discussion about interfaith programs designed for young people in middle school and/or high school.

We were among more than 650 people of every conceivable faith who came from all parts of the world. Many were college age, and a few were high schoolers. 51 young people were Scholars who had been awarded a full scholarship to come to the conference and learn together about becoming interfaith leaders.

Conference workshops were offered on a variety of philosophical, practical, and inspirational topics, such as:
"Listen Up! Building a Better World with Web-Based Video"
"Tools for Dialogue: New Approaches to Interfaith Education"
"From Obama's Cairo Speech to Action: A Discussion of Interfaith Initiatives in the Obama Administration"
"Interfaith Leadership for International Religious Freedom"
...and that was just a few of the offerings the first day!

There were 2 or 3 major keynote events each day with very influential and inspirational speakers. Eboo Patel, the head of Interfaith Youth Core, held a "conversation" with Reverend
Jim Wallis, a nationally known Evangelical theologian and author. There were White House staffers, the heads of national religious organizations, and on and on. You would think these talks might be dry and put you to sleep. Nothing could be further from the reality of it- one talk was better than the next, and kept the audience enthralled.
Many of signed up to do a service activity at the tail end of the conference. I spent an afternoon in the kitchen of a homeless shelter in Evanston (see photo above), learning about how the shelter serves people, baking pumpkin muffins and cookies, and cleaning out a fridge. All while having great conversations with my fellow workers- who included a young Muslim youth worker/college student from London, a Muslim theologian from Holland, an Orthodox rabbinic student from Los Angeles, a Unitarian Universalist seminarian from Florida and a Catholic college student studying interfaith and international affairs.
We left Evanston with full hearts and hope for the future of the world.
Here is a link to an IFYC conference follow up:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

We had a fabulous start-of- session intern meeting today at the Murphy/Wong home. Nine interns were there (Sarah, weren't you in this photo? Where did you go??)
Leo, thanks for the great photo.
The energy in the room was high as we planned and prepared for the new round of storycoaching sessions, starting Oct. 18th. It's really wonderful to think of how enthusiastic everyone was to see each other, and to get started again.
The documentary team was there, led by Khalafalla Osman and John Lyden. They are charging ahead and think they may have a finished product sometime this winter!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

CATW at "Peace Camp"

Yesterday morning (July 9th) Marni and four tellers- Ben, Adah, Emily and Kartik, travelled down to "Peace Camp" to share some stories with the campers there. This is Marni's account:

After an unexpected road detour on 32 S, we arrived somewhere in the foothills of the Catskills and were welcomed warmly by Samantha, a camper who, at 19, has attended Camp Medusa for years. Her mom is on staff. Later Sam showed me a banner created the first year she remembers being there - at age three. As we got to know other campers throughout the morning we heard some were first-years and others had been for all 4 of the years since Peace Camp had been initiated at Medusa.
Some of the other kids were building a fire and Paul and Katja Rehm, our Peace Camp hosts, offered us the choice of telling around the fire circle or inside the lodge. Everyone looked too sleepy to decide so I voted for outside and eventually we all felt warm. The wind (hence the smoke) kept shifting so occasionally people had to move from seat to seat to get out of the smoke or strengthening sunshine, but that didn’t seem to mess with anyone’s concentration. Our CAW tellers were relaxed and engaging, later we had all participated in a turn-to-your-partner sharing of memories in some way connected to making peace.
Thanks to Ben who with little more than one coffee started us off by traveling to Chelm and got us laughing at the chaos caused by a young couple’s fondness for apple strudel. Next came Emily whose tale of the cracked pot made us think about how we treat each other and how our “cracks” may just be what helps find our place in the world. Kartik’s story of the secret being passed cautioned us too but also helped us laugh at the wildly funny nonsense a rumor can cause. Adah closed the student tellings with her wonderful tale of finding the sparkling gem and returning it to the throne in Paradise. Later our listeners fed back images from all the tales that resonated with them or were especially vivid, and her gems and her demon chasing its tail were two highligts.
Since we had time, my dad’s version of “The Wind and the Sun” seemed just right to help us shift to life tales. While that fable shows we are strong when we shine our light in the world, I frame it as a memory. After talking briefly about the importance of deep uninterrupted listening, I set the timer and we were soon lost in a sea of talking tellers. We gave each other appreciations for images again, and then everyone shared either a snippet of story or something we’d noticed about listening or being listened to.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Our tellers on WRPI's "In the Spirit"!

Marni writes about our experience at WRPI this afternoon:

We DID IT!!!! Thank you so much Bill Roylance for suggesting the WRPI radio show “In the Spirit” and for making the initial contact with Gary Goldberg. I know Gary has faithfully done this show for years, encouraging talk across and within a diversity of faith traditions. It was a thrill to be a part of the show and see our students shining. All around it was a great experience.
Paula bravely started us off providing some info and establishing a relaxed tone on the microphones. We had only two among the seven of us but the sharing worked well! Then Adah jumped in with the first tale, FULL of confidence and obviously making every image in her mind as she lured us into the world of angels and gifts from above. She laughed, later, saying she HAD to do gestures and I knew just what she meant about that helping her enter and stay in the world of the tale. She launched us well.
Toma stepped in and had fun with Djuha and his trickster tale about the pot “dying” from Arab Folktales. Emily looked very poised as she introduced us to the woman carrying her two pots – one whole and one cracked. Gary seemed to enjoy talking with each of the kids and was very appreciative of what our group is all about – communication – one of the values upon which his show is built. He noticed that Ritam had a lot of dramatist in him once he heard about Mandababa’s prayer and his refusal to accept help from anyone but God. It was funny when Gary asked, “Are you ever in plays?” and Ritam got to respond, “Yes, in about four hours I’ll be in a musical!”
Khalafalla was the anchor of our team with five minutes left and, as we used to say in diving, “he nailed it!” finishing smoothly in the alotted time. Gary was quite impressed that Khalafalla was telling a story not only of his experience (his first Ramadan fasting at Niskayuna High School), but about what it is like to share your faith tradition and see it have an impact on others and open minds.
We’re all so proud of you! Thanks again to Paula for getting all the info on parking and timing, not to mention driving three of our tellers. And thanks be to the ONE who kept it from pouring rain while we walked from the parking lot to find the hidden WRPI door in the Darrin Communications Building, and for sparing us parking tickets when our meters ran out!
As the website proclaims, Children at the Well ROCKS!

Monday, February 23, 2009

coming soon...

the 2009 Children at the Well performance!!

The Interfaith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area presents:

Interfaith Youth Storytelling
Sunday, March 29th, 2009
3:30 pm

St. Francis de Sales Church
1 Maria Drive, Loudonville

All Welcome- Family, Friends, and Community!
Donations to benefit our youth program

To be followed by a vegetarian pot-luck supper and informal story sharing
If you wish to join us for supper
please bring your favorite vegetarian* dish to share
*(containing no meat, fish, or poultry)
For further information, please contact Gert Johnson: 374-0637 or

This project is made possible in part through COMMUNITY ART$GRANTS

Friday, February 13, 2009


I just want to thank Nasibah Elmi and Ben Russell for doing a fabulous job representing Children at the Well on Respect Day at their high school, Shenendahowa.

We all learned that you have to stay flexible whenever you expect to perform because there can always be glitches. But Ben and Nasibah both stayed calm as a switch in the schedule started to eat up our time. It all worked out in the end, and Nasibah appeared relaxed and confident as she talked of our group’s work and how important it is for helping people develop respect around differences. She spoke quite eloquently about the symbol of the well and how alike we are in our mutual yearning to know God in our own ways.

Ben, as we used to say in the world of performance diving in which I grew up, “nailed” his story. His character voices were wonderful, and I could HEAR kids laughing as he delivered all the funny lines. He looked like a pro at the microphone. The choice of the humorous Chelm tale about Hanukkah showed how our group can have fun and at the same time approach the serious issue of faith-sharing.

Extra special thanks to Mrs. Linda Russell who helped set up this opportunity for us and who made a beautiful display that showed photos and some written material about the group. We’ll take it to display at Story Sunday March 8 at the Glen Sanders and the next Word Play night at Proctors, both of which are sponsored by the Story Circle of the Capital District. It was really fun to be part of this promotion of our work!

I hear our new brochure is also in the making, thanks to Ritam Mehta, Paula Weiss and Gert Johnson who’ve been busy at that. And next a documentary? Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January- a time for endings, as well as new beginnings

Our 2009 season of Children at the Well began January 12th with the first coaching session of the year, held this year at the Colonie Town Library. The following Sunday was the annual Winter Lights performance. A brief CATW meeting was held beforehand, mostly to check in with tellers to see how the search for a story to tell is going.

Then all present stayed for the inspiring program, which storycoach Marni Gillard describes below:

I just want to take a moment to express my appreciation to Gert Johnson and everyone who had a hand in making the annual interfaith Winter Lights storytelling “show” such a delight. This program offers both a deeply sacred and entertaining storytelling/arts experience for its listeners. Snow kept away some listeners from venturing out this year no doubt, so I thought I’d share highlights.

Special thanks also to Micki and Glenn Groper who shared with us their beautiful Beth Emeth Synagogue. The intimate space proved to be perfect for tellers young and old, dancers, chanters and even a juggler celebrating the similarities and the differences of our various faith traditions.

Gert, as she can do so well, set the tone for the day with a short tale that reminds us how alike we are. Reza Hosseinzadeh, a newcomer to the group from the Baha’i faith, enchanted us with his spoken English and chanted Persian opening prayers. The gentle voice and guitar of Bill Cliff took us to a forest where the Buddha’s “Goldenfoot” taught a once-greedy hunter about devotion. Another newcomer, Kay Olan, offered a favorite tale from the Haudenosaunee (People of the Long House) about seven boys who sing and dance their way into the sky, leaving their parents and a tale behind. A fourth-year member of the Children at the Well youth interfaith tellers, Ben Russell, chose an Issac Bashevis Singer tale which shows you’d better be careful what you wish for. Ben’s ability to bring diverse characters to life is a real gift to his listeners. Joan Horgan, the Director of Campus Ministry at St. Rose, well-known in the capitol region for gathering musicians and readers in song and story, closed the opening half with the beautiful strains of Dan Schutte’s “A Time Will Come for Singing.”

I have to admit my delight watching John Lyden make the story of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio his own. John, another youth teller, dares to play with the audience, surprising us not only with juggling but wolf-running and saint-walking instrumentals. Two young sisters, Kruttika and Prakriti Bhat, already experienced traditional Hindu dancers, offered a prayer dance to Ganesha, believed to remove all obstacles for his devotees. I recalled the image of this dance two days later as President Obama’s inauguration marked the end of some long-obstructing national notions. Alan McClintock took us to the shivery North for the miracle tale “The Silver Pine Cones” and Mary Murphy closed the evening with her lively “Santoro” from William J. Bausch’s Storytelling, Imagination, and Faith, about the bitter-sweetness of humanity’s limited time on earth. There was a stillness in the room as Glenn Groper sent us off with prayer. I give thanks that in this dark and cold time of year we can be warmed by a community dedicated to linking our hearts with song, dance and story.