The Power of Storytelling

by Carly Grutel

At the Lincoln Community Foundation, we believe in the power of storytelling. So much so, that we incorporated storytelling into our internal culture through our new mission, vision, and values. In my role of Brand and Content Manager, I get to inspire our community to give, act and lead by amplifying the stories of nonprofits, donors, and community members. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a storytelling workshop for nonprofits. I learned how powerful sharing your truth can be for your organization. It inspired me to utilize our blog as a vehicle to tell my story and how my life path has been impacted by our nonprofit community.  

I grew up here in Lincoln and I have often asked myself; if it weren’t for the organizations and programs in our community, would I be who I am and where I am today?

As a child, my family experienced poverty, mental health challenges and, at times, homelessness. My mother worked full time and fought for us to have our needs met however, she wouldn’t have been able to do it without community resources.

I remember going to churches to receive supplemental groceries so that we could have a meal to eat. I remember a time when we didn’t have a place to live, and we slept on our family friends’ couches. Many of the other places we lived were not suited for raising children and there were times we would boil hot water on the stove just to take a warm bath because we didn’t have gas. 

Around the age of 12, my family finally had a place to call home. It wasn’t any home; it was an affordable and safe home that was built just for us by Habitat for Humanity. Two huge components of this program are volunteerism and sweat equity. Volunteers give their time and resources to build homes for families in the community they also reside in. Families who move into these homes also need to put in volunteer hours to qualify for the program. I helped my mom provide childcare for parents who were filling out paperwork to get into the program and worked alongside volunteers to build the home that was going to be ours.

At the time, I didn’t know exactly how this would impact our life but I could feel my mother’s sense of hope and relief. I was most excited about finally having my own bedroom and being able to invite my friends over from school. As an adult, I realized it was a key factor in helping me reach my fullest potential.

A few years prior to living in our new home, I had the opportunity to be paired with a mentor, through the TeamMates Mentoring program. For the last 23 years, my mentor has been guiding and influencing how I show up in the world. Ultimately, she showed me a career path I didn’t know was possible, nor existed, for a girl like me. She helped me set goals, create plans, and connected me to people and organizations who could help me get closer to reaching my goals in each stage of my life. 
I was the first in my family to graduate from college. As I navigated my bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, I found myself asking more why questions. Why did I experience the life I experienced so far? Why did I get the opportunity to go to college? Why are so many of my peers I graduated high school with not on this higher education journey with me? Why are some of my peers struggling with addiction and in jail?  

Those questions led me to the courses that would help me answer, or at least further investigate the many why’s that I possessed. I had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to take on the challenge of changing the world. That is when I decided, whichever career path I follow, it will be tied to helping create a better life for people in my community. 

Our experiences influence our values, who we are, who we want to be, and the kind of community we want to live in. Our stories connect us all and guide how we give, act and lead. I am humbled to now have the opportunity to give the microphone to our generous community and share how we are coming together to give everyone in Lincoln the opportunity to thrive.