Storytellers program up for award | AspenTimes.com

Storytellers program up for award

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A local organization that unites older storytellers with younger listeners is up for its second award from a statewide foundation that supports excellence in Colorado not-for-profits.

Woody Creek-based Spellbinders is a finalist in the Awards for Excellence Program run by the El Pomar Foundation, and the nonprofit could be awarded $15,000. With either the second- or third-place awards, Spellbinders would receive $5,000.

Spellbinders teaches seniors the art of storytelling, and then the volunteers take their craft to children in the valley’s schools, libraries and at other events.

Germaine Kresser Dietsch began the program in Denver in 1988, when she took a group of seniors to an elementary school to work on a drama project. She discovered the kids loved hearing the adults telling their stories.

“The children were engaged ? they were mesmerized,” said Kresser Dietsch, now a Woody Creek resident. “People said, ‘There weren’t any puppets? No music? They just tell a story?’ But it became much more evident that audiences love it ? it’s a personal communication, which has become rare in modern society.

“We don’t really have time to talk to each other.”

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Kresser Dietsch’s Spellbinders program has 17 chapters, seven of which are in Colorado. In the Roaring Fork Valley she creates manuals and handbooks for volunteers in chapter offices, and helps organize the local chapter at the same time.

About 100 valley residents have been trained in the art of storytelling since she set up shop locally in 1996, she said. Currently there are 25 to 30 active volunteers in the Roaring Fork Valley, telling stories in public elementary schools or for organizations such as the Aspen Art Museum, HeritageAspen and the Pitkin County Library.

Kresser Dietsch said the older participants in the program go through a workshop to learn the art of storytelling, even though it’s an art they’ve practiced their whole lives without knowing.

“We emphasize folk tales for beginners, since they have a distinct and easy structure,” she said. “But after you get more competent, you can interweave your own personal experience within or around a story. We also do legends and literary tales.”

Last year Spellbinders received $5,000 from the El Pomar Foundation as part of the Intergenerational Category of the Awards for Excellence. This year they are nominated in the Special Projects category.

The Colorado Springs-based foundation gave out $15 million in grants and awards last year in Colorado. The awards will be handed out at a Dec. 4 banquet.

Kresser Dietsch said she was “tickled” to find out they were nominated for an award for the second year in a row.

“The elders tell me they have a whole new lease on life, and that the program gives them a tremendous boost. They’re using an ability to communicate with children that they never recognized they had,” she said. “The children get listening skills, language skills and polish their imagination skills. With television, you’re watching, not listening. There’s an old adage: You have to listen to learn, but first you have to learn to listen.”

This winter season Kresser Dietsch said the storytellers can be heard each Wednesday afternoon as part of the Snowmass Village Resort Association’s campfire storytelling after skiing.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]