Steamboat storytellers charm the imagination

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— In an age of lightning-quick communication, not many people take the time to truly connect to each person with whom they communicate. When interaction is not face to face, people don't feel compelled to commit all of their attention to listening and to learning. Most of the time, these moments lack inspiration. They lack a certain charm.

Spellbinders, an organization founded in Aspen, seeks to bring back the magic. Its goal is to reconnect generations, to inspire literacy and to fuel imaginations. The program's unique approach is reminiscent of a time long ago. It employs the age-old tradition of oral storytelling.

Currently, there are 17 active storytellers in the Steamboat Springs chapter of Spellbinders; however, the program has trained more than 40 storytellers in the past five years. Last year, 20 classrooms in Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools were visited by these trained storytellers.

Sarah Kostin, the youth services librarian at Bud Werner Memorial Library, envisions Spellbinders growing to a size capable of accommodating all Steamboat Springs elementary classrooms. As of now, there are more local classrooms in want of a teller than Spellbinders can provide. She notes that storytelling is an art. It allows listeners to visualize images and solutions, both valuable skills that apply to everyday life.

"Spellbinders was started as a means of connecting older generations to our youth through an eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart connection," Kostin said.

Sherry Holland, the media specialist at Strawberry Park, echoed Kostin's statement.

"Stories can connect us to ideas and characters that help us understand ourselves, build empathy toward others and learn more deeply about the relationships in our lives," Holland said.

The Steamboat Springs chapter of Spellbinders was organized in 2008 at the local library and now hosts an annual weeklong workshop for volunteers. At present, eight new storytellers are participating in the workshop, which is open to grandparents, retirees, grown-up kids, former teachers or librarians who wish to become trained in the art of storytelling.

The workshop will conclude Saturday with each volunteer performing a 10- to 15-minute folktale for the group. At the conclusion of the training, the volunteers become certified in the art of storytelling.

The eight new Spellbinders storytellers will join 17 active Steamboat storytellers to boost the reach of the program. The next workshop will be held in fall 2014. To learn more about Spellbinders and the local program, visit www.steamboatlibrary.org.

Madison Ruppel, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a fall intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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