In 2010, I set out on a journey to explore the power of story. I began traveling across the United States meeting and interviewing ordinary people with extraordinary stories from all across the country. In my two-and-a-half years on the road, I met so many truly remarkable people who had overcome incredibly challenging life circumstances. I asked each of these people to write their story using the word Imagine. It’s a unique format, where every sentence begins with Imagine…. As I listened to and read these stories, I could sense that these people had acquired a deeper understanding of how much they had overcome and who they really were as human beings. And in follow-ups with them later, they expressed how writing their stories in this format encouraged them to believe in themselves and imagine new possibilities in their lives. In 2013, their stories became my first book, The Imagine Project: Stories of Courage, Hope and Love (Yampa Valley Publishing).
After the book was published, readers reported how much these stories inspired them to imagine new possibilities in their own lives. That’s when I realized how powerful the Imagine writing process was. And I wondered this process could be used to help children? Having experienced a great deal of my own trauma as a child, and working with kids and teens in my private mental health practice I knew that stress and trauma is common among many communities in the country—I quickly found out how challenging life is for many kids.
I asked a friend who is an 8th grade science teacher in a suburb of Denver, to see if his students could write their own Imagine stories. The kids loved the process, and we were both surprised—and concerned—when we read them. Out of a class of 28 kids came deep, profound stories that offered a glimpse into the psyches of these children. Some children were dealing with what might be considered minor challenges like moving or fighting among siblings, while others were dealing with more serious issues like bullying or sick family members. Yet most concerning were the three kids who expressed suicidal thoughts. That day, I understood the profound value of this project.
I kept going—visiting classroom after classroom, listening to incredible stories told by children of all ages from all across the country with all sorts of backgrounds—wealthy to homeless; solid family life to broken homes. Here are five examples of Imagine statements from five different kids in five different schools from across the country.
A kindergartner: “Imagine…wishing there was someone there to pick you up from school every day.”
A 3rd grader: “Imagine…being hungry—all the time.”
A 5th grader: “Imagine…being the shy girl in school and waiting every single day for someone to notice you— just once.”
An 8th grader: “Imagine…your parents always pushing you to be better and not seeing how good you already are.”
An 11th grader: “Imagine…the police coming to your door and arresting both of your parents for murder.”
Every time I left a school, I knew I had to keep going. Children need a voice, a way to tell their stories. The statistics around stress and trauma in children are astounding. The Stress in America study found that kids are more stressed than adults, even in the summer! The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) found that 50% of all children experience at least one traumatic event before they are 17 years old. In poverty stricken and high crime areas it can be as high as 100%. These number are high and yet there are few tools and resources to help kids.
Children’s hearts and minds are full of challenging feelings, thoughts, and issues. They need a tool to express themselves, process their emotions, and move forward. Overtime I developed four journals for: Kindegarten-2nd grade, Kids (elementary school age), Teens, and Adults. Parents, teachers, counselors, and youth leaders could incorporate them into schools, groups, individual counseling sessions, etc. Now they are available for free globally through this website—and they will soon be available in Spanish! The Imagine Project is a simple 7-step process that all kids (and adults) can use ages K-12. It will help them work through difficult times, create a habit of expressing writing when they need support, and ultimately support their future by encouraging them to Imagine a new story in their lives. The Imagine Project teaches kids they don’t have to be defined by their story, instead they can imagine and design a new story for themselves.