This was the best advice my 7th grade writing teacher gave me. I had to write an essay to apply for a scholarship and she said, “Tell your story, and it’ll change your life.” I was 12 years old. This was the beginning of my journey with storytelling. Ever since, I have been fascinated with hearing other people’s stories and seeing the impact that their narratives have on my own.

Telling a story creates meaning for something that, maybe before, we had no connection to. Telling a story helps us understand one another’s differences when we uncover small details that we can relate to. Telling stories helps us bond with complete strangers. Curiosity and an eagerness to listen to others, as people had listened to me, led to me choosing journalism as my career path. Now my daily life consists of hearing how and why people ended up where they are.

This is what I know, it is what I love, and funny enough, I wasn’t sure how I would apply it to a Fellowship centered around communications and public relations. When I learned about my acceptance into the Karel Fellowship, I was ecstatic and anxious all at the same time. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure how my journalism background would intermix with communications (something that was new to me). And I was ecstatic because I knew along the way I would have the opportunity to learn a new, valuable skill set.

During our first day at what I call “Burness boot camp,” I learned that a major aspect of communications is storytelling. During my first week at Mary’s Center, the nonprofit I was paired with, I got the chance to do exactly what I love to do—use visuals and words to tell a story. Mary’s Center’s mission is to uplift communities by providing quality health care, education, and social services to all people regardless of their ability to pay. Towards the middle of the first week, I was given my first video assignment. I couldn’t be more excited. Not only was I given creative freedom on what visuals were going to be in the video, but my mentors were also eager to hear my ideas. My fear of feeling like I didn’t have much to bring to the table was gone when I recognized that my skills were extremely valuable to Mary’s Center.

The work that nonprofits do is often translated through the lens of storytelling and visuals. Mary’s Center takes pride in being community-oriented. By sharing stories of participants, they bring the community closer. Stories allow people to understand and see Mary’s Center’s mission in action.

Telling my story in 7th gave me the ability to show funders why I deserved the scholarship. It showed a side of me that could not be seen through my GPA and extra-curriculars. From a personal and professional standpoint, I can attest that there is so much power in storytelling.