Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Ph.D. Doctor of Philosophy

Academic Discipline

Community Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Bradley Olson

Second Advisor

Dr. Judah Viola

Third Advisor

Dr. Tiffeny Jimenez


Stories are powerful tools used for centuries to entertain, teach, empower, and build community. Neuroscience research shows that stories impact the brain in ways that allow us to increase empathy and connect with people (What Happens in the Brain When We Hear Stories?, n.d.; Yang, 2014; Zak, 2015). Community Psychologists have used stories to collect qualitative data and life experiences to create or change a community narrative and address community trauma (Hyman, 2002; Rappaport, 2000). While existing research describes the power of stories and provides storytelling techniques, this research study identified a new method – The Community Story Engine - for Community Psychologists and community partners to use to build connections in the community, spark challenging conversations, and collect the community’s voice sharing their strengths and challenges as an input into strategic action planning (Campbell, 1949; Denborough, 2008; P. G. Foster-Fishman et al., 2009; Law, 2017, 2014; White, 2007). A guided storytelling workshop was designed and tested which delivered 80 stories. The stories were coded to identify themes, common interests, and community strengths and challenges. The stories were compiled into a collection to be shared with the community to create connections and provoke conversations. The place-based research was conducted in Virginia’s small, rural community with a history of family and tradition, patriotism and loyalty, segregation, and polarity, all with the beautiful backdrop of the town’s mountains. The research led to five findings: the Storytelling Workshop created connections, even safe stories can be a lightning rod to spark conversations, stories can be a doorway for the Community Psychologist, the storytelling research approach was not extractive but a gift and the praxis of the Community Story Engine and tools. This process and tools can be used by Community Psychologists to build and strengthen community relationships, make meaningful connections in the community and spark challenging conversations, and use the outputs as input into strategic action planning.