“I didn’t expect to cry so much.” Christy da Rosa laughed. Since her experience as a social worker focusing on community mental health and undergoing her own burnout in the process, Christy has been interested in working with trauma on a daily basis. Now as a PhD student and research assistant, Christy has been working at Trauma Informed Oregon for the past three years through the school of social work at PSU.

After meeting other graduates from The Hearth’s Certificate in Community Storytelling training through the Disaster Resilience Learning Network, she joined the training in 2022 hoping to learn specific skills to bring back into her work and practice. Through her involvement at TIO and her own experience of burnout, she knew she wanted to gather tools to help others avoid what she went through.

“I was ready for this to be a reflective experience, but I wasn’t expecting stories that felt less precious to me to be so precious to give and have received. I think it was less about the content of the story and more about the experience of being seen and heard in a nurturing and protective way.”

Christy’s father immigrated to the states from China at the age of 19 and her mother’s side hails from Japan, the family settling in Hawaii. “I definitely bring my family lineage to my place of work,” she said. Christy brings this culturally intersectional perspective to her work and daily life, and knew that she wanted to apply what she was learning about story to the APIERG (Asian Pacific Islander Employee Resource Group) at PSU.

API employees at PSU are a small yet growing community which hasn’t been fully recognized for their leadership at PSU and faces issues of “The Bamboo Ceiling” with lack of API decision making roles coupled with trauma and rise in hate crimes post-COVID. “Storytelling for me was a beautiful pathway to centering our relationships as a community as well as hearing and seeing the different forms of isolation and trauma the community had experienced but outside of the mental health sector.” Christy produced a series of storytelling events for the API ERG at PSU, centering different forms of storytelling for each one.

The first event focused on story groups, having folks split into groups of five people to share a time you felt welcomed or like you belonged in community. Anyone who was API at PSU could attend. The second event focused on API women in leadership. A group of women storytellers were coached for this more formal event where they would each share a story about when they knew they were a leader. The phrasing of the prompt was so important because “we intentionally wanted the women to state when they ‘knew’ they were a leader. It’s a very difficult thing to acknowledge when you’re a woman and API. We would hear women say, ‘Well, I don’t think I’m a leader, but here’s one time when I felt like one.’”

Not only was this event powerful for the women who participated, but the Global Diversity director and the president came to listen to the stories told. “At the time, we were collaborating with the only interim associate dean who was API at PSU.” This event was not without challenge, however. A huge snow storm hit Portland the day the event was scheduled to take place, prompting them to reschedule for another day which resulted in less audience turn out, but there was plenty of food for participants to take home. The final event was more informal with participants writing down “something you have accomplished, something you’re glad is over and something you’re sending off with love.”

“My biggest takeaway is that storytelling is flexible and can come in multiple different forms. One on one storytelling, written story, story exchange. This training gave me permission to use storytelling in a way that aligns with my strengths.” Christy said. “In Trauma Informed Care, one of our key indicators is centering relationship. This can be abstract and difficult to describe, but the certificate training gave me an ‘aha!’ moment. THIS is how relationship can be centered. The container that is created through The Hearth’s version of storytelling which de-centers the individual and more the relationship between the listener and teller.”

As Christy continues to bring story into her work, specifically with Trauma Informed Oregon and the Disaster Resilience Learning Network, she asks herself, “how do I bring a disconnected and wounded community together through gentle storytelling and relationship building?,” “how can we bring story and the heart experience into our work?” With those questions guiding her, Christy endeavors to find a balance of the mind and heart through Trauma Informed Care and the power of storytelling.

Learn more about the Certificate in Community Storytelling Training here!