Commentary and conversations about life in Richmond, Indiana


Mary Walker and Ashley Sieb on the power of story-telling to help us navigate COVID-19 together

When we talk about COVID-19 and its impact on all of us, it’s tempting to focus on the numbers: deaths, tests, positivity rates, charts that go up and down. These are very important, but they don’t tell the whole story. And if we only talk numbers, we risk losing touch with what’s really going on with our neighbors, friends, coworkers and children as we’ve faced down a public health crisis in Wayne County.

The recently launched Share Your Story COVID-19 Wayne County campaign hopes to help us connect with the personal parts of this difficult time. By telling the stories of those who have been affected by the pandemic in some way, and by providing resources and activities that engage people from all backgrounds, the project hopes to help us remember why it’s so important that we mask up, practice social distancing and follow other recommended guidelines to slow the spread of the virus. (Come for the mask design contest, stay for the powerful videos.)

In this podcast episode, I talk with Mary Walker and Ashley Sieb who are part of the larger group of people who brought the campaign to life in a short period of time. We discuss how the project started, the kinds of personal experiences they’ve heard about from local residents, and the importance of story-telling in helping people shift and evolve their perspective on our life together as a community.

I hope you enjoy the conversation. If you find it interesting or useful, please share!


The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions.

Chris Hardie: The two of you are part of a larger group of people who have launched a public awareness campaign that’s aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in our area, in Wayne County. As hard as it is to say it, we’re coming up on a year of having the pandemic be a reality in our lives. Along the way, we’ve seen a lot of public messaging, a lot of public awareness efforts. I’m hoping you can tell us a little bit about the origins of this, Share Your Story project and how it might be different from some of the other projects or messaging that have been out there along the way.

Mary Walker: With regards to share your story, how that really originated was from a press conference that the city and county was having with regards to, we were nearing the dreaded red on the Coronavirus map, the state map. After they were doing the county and the city, all of the data, we’ve been constantly influenced and they’re just overloaded with data, which is good in one way, but at some point, you start to tune that out and when you have it 24/7, and you’re getting it locally state and federally, it’s easy to start tuning those things out.

At this press conference, there were three local businesses, Leland Legacy and Roscoe’s, and Cordial Cork. At the end, they each told their story of how COVID has impacted their business. I was really moved when all three of them were saying in various ways how it was affecting their business, but in particular, Amanda Marquis, when she was talking and talking about the isolation of her residents and how some were losing their will to live because they weren’t engaging and being active and being able to go outside even. Then she got very emotional and that really moved me.

That was my “aha” moment, where it was like, how do we tell these stories in a way where they will resonate with others in an emotional way, in an interactive, heartfelt way where we get that message across of COVID and how all the impacts that it affects us. Whether that’s through just not the revenues from a business standpoint, but the mental health. The healthcare first frontline and the first responders, the schools and the kids and the teachers and the hybrids, and then the parents who have to stay at home because the kids are at home. All of those things were just weaving in and out.

It’s like, how do we address those in a way that resonates with others to again, do those simple things, to help us get out of this COVID pandemic and wash your hands, wear your mask, and social distance. That really brought that home to me about getting people to do things in a different way that were emotional and tugged at the heartstrings. That’s when we pulled together a huge group, the full group and you’ve seen the list, of representing all various sectors of our community and our county and thinking about ways and having them impart ways that COVID has affected their companies, their patients, their residents, their kids, et cetera.

That’s how all of this got started and then, poor Ashley, I forwarded to Reid, they had done their first COVID video, and it was very moving. It was with regards to their first patient who died. I forwarded, I put that on Facebook. Then I, fortunately, right, Ashley, I asked you to be a part of this movement and she just jumped on board and serves as our marketing guru. She’s just been incredible in this effort to move this forward and get these messages out.

Chris: Ashley, what brought you into the project? What was the part for you where you knew it was an important thing for you to spend time on?

Ashley Sieb: Mary covered everything so well, in terms of how did we get started with this project and the “why” behind it, in terms of that emotional moment, when Amanda was talking about her residents and something we could, most of us, I don’t want to say it all. Amanda specifically said, “I don’t have the relationship or connections with grandparents that some of you had because they weren’t around when I was younger, but most of you know what it’s like to have a grandparent and some of you know what it’s like to lose one. She brought you into the story and the experience and made you feel something that really just took over your body.

The video from Reid of this older gentleman who lost his battle with COVID. I was sobbing. I was just sitting there imagining my own grandpa or my husband’s grandparents, you just start to really have immense empathy and that is the power of storytelling. As a marketer, when I see what’s happening in the community and in the world and I see my superpower of empathy and storytelling all align, it was one of those moments where I thought, “This is going to be a lot of work because I’m a mom and I have a full-time job. I didn’t know if Cooper was going to go back to remote learning, and we’re all going to be in our PJs again, just like trying to survive.

I thought this is just so important that we need to be able to have the right storytelling fundamentals behind this. We need to be able to always consider the experience of a story because one key component of this, something that a lot of people can relate to is no one wants to listen to a story or see an ad or read an article if they’re going to feel shamed or fear. When we do these stories, we always go back to our checklist of, is this a story based on connection, based on empathy, based on compassion, based on unity, because if it’s not, then we’re not going to post it.

We know those are our core values with this campaign and what we’re trying to convey, so we really hold strong to those. That’s how we gauge. What story should we tell? Then what experience do we want someone to have once they hear a story?

Chris: It seems like it will take us probably generations to process all of the ways in which this pandemic has affected the world and in our community isn’t exempt from that and we know that those stories are out there, but the way the pandemic unfolded, there was all this fear-based information because the public health officials trying to get people to do one thing or not do another thing. It feels like we were launched into this mode of existence where it was responding to fear and not really having time to process a lot of those stories.

As humans, it does seem like we aren’t always able to empathize with something at a large-scale loss of life, even as we can understand it as being tragic, but we aren’t able to feel it. If you show us a face or a name, the story of a life then there’s that shift, and doors of understanding can open. Changes in behavior can happen. Now that you’ve launched that project, how have you seen that dynamic play out since you started talking to people, understanding their stories, and figuring out how to share them?

Ashley: I think the biggest thing is, it’s Mary and I on the call today. Telling you a little bit about what we’re doing and there are so many other people behind the scenes who make these stories come to life and really do a great job at making sure those stories are told and heard and captured. From a experience perspective, I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is it really does take a group of people who align with that common goal to know what to look for so that when we’re talking to people and you hear the story of, I’ll give you a great example, Sharrie from the hospital, she said, “I’m having this conversation with the funeral home director. He talked about how he had four funerals the weekend before Christmas. Four back-to-back

Like every day, me and Ashley see with my job, I probably wouldn’t hear that story. There’s a lot of people who have daily interactions, but we are a little bit more remote. I don’t run into Mary at Roscoe’s. I maybe would have in the summertime where she could have told me that like, “Hey, did you hear that this happened?” Or, “This family was affected and then this happened?” Those little natural stories that would have been the small talk are just not happening. We needed to get way to tell those stories, even if they were small but so impactful in different channels that our community uses. We’ve got Renee from the EDC who– she was writing a radio ad script, I’m not joking, the day before Thanksgiving. She’s typing up this really clever video ad. Then we’re working on that. Then you’ve got Phil Quinn, who moved to Arizona, but he’s still supporting the project. He really quickly did audio for a commercial that we had some kids in. You start to see all these people that are like, “Hey, this is important.” These little stories matter because they have a big impact, even if it’s “a little story”.

Mary: In addition to the incredible team, I think it’s also wonderful to see, and the hope is, we see even more of that where this becomes an outlet for people to share their own story. In Nathan Hog, I can’t remember, I think he’s 18, works at Reid, and he did a selfie. We want more of that for people to hear these things and be able to share their stories so that they have an outlet in which to do that and know that they’re not alone and that their stories can make a difference, too, not just ours.

Ashley: I completely agree.

Chris: Let’s do a quick inventory of some of the things you’ve created because there’s a lot. There’s a website, which is the landing page for all of this, with some stories and videos, and resources. You have different social media accounts on that website and in those accounts. There’s everything from information if people want links and information. There’s stuff for kids to do. There’s coloring sheets. Tell us about some of the highlights of the materials you’ve created and how those are getting out into the community.

Ashley: We realized early on that we would have, and Mary was very thoughtful about this from the beginning as well, so give her a shout out here, we knew we were going to have different audiences for different stories. We knew that the way that you talk about COVID with a kid is different than how you would talk about COVID when you’re talking to someone struggling with mental health just from a parallel perspective, maybe the terms you use or the outlet or the channel.

We thought, “If we know that it’s important for everyone to be bought into practicing these distance measures and wearing a mask.” In the beginning, I think a lot of people felt silly, or they thought, “I’m not going to do this because I don’t know if they’re effective or not.” You have all these fear-based messages. Like you said earlier, Chris, you got all this stuff to come back and we thought, “You know what, who really rocks all of these protocols? It’s the kids. They rock every one of these.”

They’re like, “You know what, I want to be in school and hang out with my friends. I’m going to wear my mask and I’m going to have my desk a little further apart. I’m going to keep washing my hands.” They were rockstars. We thought, “Let’s really tap into them first because we can really learn from them.” Chris, what gets the most engagement on social? Kids, dogs, the whole thing. [laughs]

We started there with some of the efforts, like you mentioned, the coloring sheets, getting those into the schools, and putting them on the website which Ed DeLaPaz has built for us and had some videos for us. We really started to see some of that takeoff and then Angel Grove and Bill Matthews who helped with social media, they were really thoughtful about sharing content that would be helpful for people who maybe don’t follow the CDC on social media. I don’t know about you, Chris, but I wasn’t following the CDC on social media before this started. [laughs]

Chris: No push notifications there.

Ashley: No one, like daily, subscribed to that one. We thought, “There’s value in diversifying the content that we share, but let’s start with a group and a message and options that speak to something that all of us can get behind, which is keeping our kids safe and let that spread out and to keeping each other safe and keeping your grandparents safe. What does that look like when we can be in this together?” Mary, I don’t know if you would like to anything else, but I think that’s kind of how we originally approached creating some of those assets for the campaign.

Mary: Absolutely. I think you’ve said it very eloquently and just looking at all the different segments and that people, through the pandemic are being affected and thinking about what that messaging might be and what that audience and how do we reach. Even with one of the segments that we have as an upcoming messaging is minority health. What we’ve learned through Sharrie Harlin Davis is that, at least I learned is that the African-American and Latino populations are much more susceptible to getting worse symptoms with COVID and even more susceptible to death from COVID. I didn’t realize. How do we take that messaging and gear that to that audience, that target market to really say, “This is important. This is the things you need to do.”?

The difficult thing and this is where we really have to think outside the box, is that not everyone reads a newspaper, not everyone listens to the radio, not everyone is on social media. What are the additional ways that we can reach the target audiences in ways that will be good for them? One of those interviews that we did was Terrance and Terry. They play on the Lunch Bunch, a basketball group that plays weekly at the YMCA. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s on our website. They were just talking about, they both had COVID. They both got it from some of their fellow teammates and spread it amongst each other. They were very forthright. They have their own following on social media and in other areas.

It’s looking at ways to have those opportunities where people are willing to share their story and then get that out to their own segments, too, because that’s how things become, as we all know, viral. That’s just one example, but looking at ways that we can ultimately– we haven’t figured out exactly how, but the Amish and the religious segments where, how do we get messages out to them that might be applicable and that might be helpful and resonate as well.

Chris: It strikes me, both of you are people who focus on projects and initiatives that have measurable results. I want to talk a little bit more about what you do in the rest of your lives when you’re not working on this campaign, but this is a campaign where it’s hard to measure success. You can put all this out in the world and you can see website traffic, you can see video views, social media shares. Is there any way really to know if it’s having the desired effect when it comes to what’s in people’s hearts and minds or do you have to just work on it, knowing and hoping that it will make some kind of difference, but not knowing exactly what that will be?

Ashley: Yes. We thought about that upfront, how are we going to measure the success of this campaign? What does that look like because it’s not as easy as an ROI where as a marketer, I might create a white paper and put it on my website and if 50 people download it, I could say it’s successful? That’s very tangible to look at. Instead, we’ve started to look at– we worked really closely with Ken from the government. We say, “Ken, how many people do you think percentage-wise are wearing their mask in Wayne County?”

When we first started, it was much lower, I would say. Now, I think the last meeting we had, Ken said something like, “We’re seeing the mask-wearing rate in the high 90s, which is amazing.” Can we take credit for that? Probably not all by ourselves, but can I go to sleep at the end of the night and think, “Maybe somebody thought a little better about wearing their mask because they saw Terrance’s video? That kind of stuff that’s anecdotal, I think is helpful to say, “We know that through these stories, we’re helping inspire change and behavior.” It’s harder to track, but that’s really what we’re trying to do.

We want someone to feel when they wear a mask, it’s not just for them, it’s for the other person. We want someone to know when they get a vaccine, what are some myths or concerns? We’ve got another great video coming up in the next few weeks with a professor from Earlham, who’s going to talk a little bit about debunking those myths around the vaccine because, my gosh, Chris, I’m sure you’ve seen them. I know Mary and I have around like, “It’s going to change your DNA and microchip you.” It’s like, “No, no, no, no, no, that’s not what’s happening at all,” and answering those questions that everybody has. How did this get developed so quickly? What are we looking at in terms of the influence of this vaccine what it could do for us and really having someone come in and have a good perspective. Can we look back and say, that video with him helped increase the vaccine rate Probably not, but, again, we’re going to hope that somebody, even if it’s one person, watched it and felt a little bit differently.

When you think of your brain and the way that it develops, and not to get too nerdy and outside of my scope of expertise, but when do you think of the brain, when we take in new information, it’s actually reshaping how our brain fires, and when we consume new information, and we take new stories, we’re actually changing how our brain works and fires, and sees information. If you compare that to, I’m going to take in the same information over, and over, and over, and I’m not going to let in new information, then you do see the people who are stuck in that one lane of thinking, it’s because they didn’t get access to this other perspective, or this new story, or this other video from somebody they know in their community. We’re hoping that happens.

Chris: Maybe that’s a good opportunity, just to say, we can be really clear just with the three of us talking here, that the science behind this project is real. The studies in real-world experience, clearly show that mask-wearing, and social distancing, and limiting indoor social activities, all help to slow the spread of the virus. There’s no “maybe” or “possibly” about it. These are the things that we know can reduce the spread and save lives.

As you said, Ashley, it’s not just about the current situation, but with the vaccine rollout, it’s going to be so important for the community to understand the value and the power of that vaccine, to continue observing these guidelines and in the meantime. I think the latest timeline put forth by the federal government, at least, is talking about a vaccine supply that would lead to every adult getting a dose by summertime. We have a ways to go, so it’s important and it will be important for a while for us to be thinking about understanding the science behind it and getting rid of some of those myths so that’s great that that’s happening.

Mary: I’ll just add one thing and, Chris, you mentioned it just a moment ago, and that’s believability. I think one of the things that this type of campaign could do is, because we have 24/7 news, and because we’ve been through all kinds of topics that we have to make decisions on whether we believe or not believe with regards to COVID, I think this kind of campaign that we have regular Joe Blow, John Q citizen, that is telling their story becomes much more believable and relatable than maybe someone who we don’t know and they’re spelling all of these data points and information on that. I think while it’s not measurable, there is also that ability that I think, the believability is even higher with regards to those stories if that makes sense.

Chris: For anyone who’s curious, you would mention Ken Paust, President of the Wayne County Commissioners, I believe, he’s been instrumental in some of the funding side of this. Mary, can you talk a little bit about how this project is being funded and supported knowing that there’s tons of time and resources that go into this kind of thing?

Mary: Sure, you’re absolutely correct. Ken Paust, Wayne County Commissioners, This initially started because of CARES Act dollars that were available from our federal government down to the state, from the state to our counties and cities. That’s really where this mechanism, in terms of being able to do outreach on TV spots, and radio ads, et cetera, became available because of that funding.

Then from that, now we’re in the second round of budgets and funding, and the Wayne County Council again through CARES Act money to some extent, all through deviated in such a way and that the county was, with regards to certain things that they were doing correctly and they were doing a good job at, received dollars, and then from those dollars, they go into the general fund. Then these dollars that were having our second round of marketing expenses come from our county but in a way, they’re through still the COVID-19 dollars through the CARES Act in a roundabout way.

The county has just been instrumental and being able to make this project and campaign go forward, and they should take great pride in what is being accomplished in such a short time. In addition to the dollars, you have this wealth of people and volunteers that are donating their time, like Ashley and others. You can’t have enough money to pay for those kinds of experience and expertise. You have that subset to all of the people who have given their time to make this happen because the budget only does so much.

The budget does the things of putting the ads on and doing the radio spots but it doesn’t, at all, cover creating that messaging, creating those radio spots, creating those 30-second spots, creating that ad for that magazine, or that media. To me, that’s the priceless part of all of this is that, I don’t even know what type of budget would incorporate the people that we have, both in the full group and the marketing group that make this a reality.

Chris: It sounds like a really impressive coming together of different parts of the community, people with different backgrounds, and we’ve seen a lot of that over the last year. People who might not, naturally, collaborate just finding ways to do things for the community, that’s really impressive. I do want to take a moment just– I’m sure a lot of the people listening to this will know your names and know your work, but just in case they don’t, could each of you just share a little bit about your background, your connection to the community? What do you do, out in the world, when you’re not working on this kind of campaign?

Mary: Sure, I’ll start. My name, of course, is Mary Walker, and I’m director for the Wayne County Convention and Tourism Bureau. I’ve been with this organization, actually, since it’s inception. I started when I was nine, in a joking way, but I tend to get involved in a lot of community projects in countywide projects, anything. My whole mantra of the Bureau is not just from hospitality and tourism-related, that is absolutely important, but it’s also from a quality of place and what kinds of things in working with the EDC and the Chamber, and a myriad of other organizations, to really make this a place that will people want to live, want to stay, want to relocate and want to visit. My workday is really in a variety of different positions, all dealing with that end goal of bringing people in but also enhancing our quality of place.

Ashley: Mary, I haven’t been here since I was nine. I’m not a natural [crosstalk] resident. [laughs] I definitely relate to the idea of my passion of writing when I was 9 or 10 but I definitely relocated to Richmond in, I think it was 2016. My husband grew up here and his family actually owns Esmond’s Shoes. I knew a little bit about Richmond just from the weekend trips that we would take to visit family when we were at Ball State together and moved to Richmond whenever we started our family with a little guy named Cooper, who you’ve seen in the Share Your Story adds. [laughs]

I definitely have him as an actor when we needed a crunch-time performer. My background really has always been in writing, or journalism, and marketing. When I moved to Richmond in 2016, I actually had lost my job because they wanted me to transfer back and forth to Indy every day, and that just wasn’t realistic. I thought, “What am I going to do in a community where I don’t know a single person besides my husband and my inlaws?” I just started to work, at the time, in the Innovation Center, and supporting small business owners. That led to teaching classes at the Innovation Center around social media marketing, so bringing back to life The Richmond Social Media Group that had been developed before my time, but they asked to reinvigorate that with Lauralee Hites, who, Chris, you did a great podcast with. I love Lauralee. I listened to your podcast with her.

Chris: We had a great conversation.

Ashley: That was an awesome– she’s just amazing. She and I worked together on some projects, and that was really how I started to get acclimated to the community and meet people. It just started to open up more and more of my eyes to what is the community all about? What’s the culture like here? When I worked in Indianapolis, I never would have been working on maybe a radio ad or a billboard, because that’s not really what that market and those clients that I was working on, we were doing. I was able to learn new skills, learn new channels, meet new people, and really evolve the impact that I could make here by supporting nonprofits and small business owners.

It’s really where it started, but I ended up taking a teaching job at Miami University, not too far away, and doing some digital marketing teaching over at the university level. My husband was one of the people that was impacted with COVID job losses, so budget cuts that came from COVID. Just recently, I took on a corporate job, that is one of my former clients. They’re actually not based in Richmond. I work for a company that’s based out of Pittsburgh, as well as India. I have a global marketing team that I work on and that definitely keeps me busy. [laughs]

Chris: There could be a whole other podcast conversation right about the way the pandemic has changed what’s possible for organizations doing work. I’ll be curious to see how tourism is affected by people working from home. I’ll be curious to see how all these different landscapes work overtime, but we won’t try to tackle that now. Both of you have such great stories about different ways that you’ve been involved in helping the community and bringing stories to light. It’s clearly such a natural thing to take on this project, too, with the work that you were both already doing in your lives before that.

Since we’re talking about personal ways that the pandemic has affected people, I wonder if either of you’d be willing to share just something from what it’s meant for your life personally. Not asking to share any private health stories if you don’t want to, but what’s something from your life if someone is listening about the way COVID has affected the community that you might share?

Ashley: From my side, I really, really struggled with how this impacted my mental health. I’m a pretty big mental health advocate, I talk very openly about my struggles with anxiety and depression, just in general, as a human being. When the pandemic happened, and we were all locked in, I lost every coping mechanism that I had, which would be, “I’m going to go to the gym and work out. I’m going to go shopping. I’m going to go have dinner with a friend. I’m going to go see my therapist.”

Everything that I relied on, I felt just zapped up and then I was in this house and I jokingly told my husband, ” You know I love you, but I really didn’t sign up for marriage and a family to be with you guys 24/7.” I thought [laughs] I was going to get a break from everybody. It was joking, but in the beginning, honestly, it was just so hard to have all of that stripped away. Then like you said earlier, Chris, the fear messaging started to creep in. My anxiety was through the roof. I remember walking outside when the lockdown first started and I’ve walked to the end of the road, and I felt like I was breaking a rule.

Because you’re supposed to be in lockdown and you’re not supposed to do this, and you’re not supposed to see anybody. If you struggle with anxiety, anyway, that just exasperates everything. I had to really spend a lot of time with my therapist peeling back, what can I control, which is really not a lot. [laughs] She said a line that sticks with me and maybe it’ll help you and some of your listeners, but she said, “All of us right now are detoxing from this myth of certainty. We always believe that everything we had was certain.” My husband’s job, my teaching job that I had. The ability to see my friends and family and Christmas.

All of those things I just assumed were certain, and they were always going to happen. When you are sitting back and you’re thinking of the impact, sure, my anxiety might be lower compared to other situations of people who lost loved ones or had to recover from COVID themselves, but the one thing I’ll share before, obviously I’d love to hear Mary’s answer, is one thing that really helped me was Brené Brown’s podcast because I love her as a person. [chuckles] She’s amazing. She talks a lot about comparative suffering. This idea that you cannot rank yourself right and against other people, and what is heavy to you is heavy to you.

You really need to just sit in that feeling and figure out what you can do to move forward with empathy for yourself and those around you. It’s really acknowledging that my situation and view of what happened could be different than Mary’s but I don’t have to compete with her. We both have a valid experience.

Chris: Thank you for sharing that.

Mary: I think for me, it’s really been the mental exhaustion through all of this. As you said it so well Ashley, I love the detoxing from certainty, because that is exactly what it has been, all of a sudden, in mid-March, everything changes. From whether it’s a budgeting standpoint and revenues and dealing with that, dealing with staff, and myself who the uncertainty is unfathomable. It just brings another level of anxiety. To me, dealing with all of those things, and all of the webinars and all of that from a business standpoint, how are we, as a bureau going to help our fellow partners in the industry? It just all came down at once.

For me, the mental exhaustion and having to really work through those things, and at the same time, being positive for those I encountered, my staff, and others and trying to set that calming way of saying, “This is going to be okay,” and, “This is what we’re going to do.” The beauty about all of that, while difficult to go through, is that it really makes us, one, stronger, it makes us, two, more tighter as a team, just here at work and as a family as well. Three, it just allows us to really think outside the box.

Instead of doing what we do and even though we’re creative in that this really forced us to be even more creative because there were certain dynamics from a tourism standpoint that we could do or not do. Our cultural and museums were closed or the recreational boomed. How do we take those to be creative and invite people to our community while being safe and working with our partners so that they are here for when this continues to rebound?

I have a firm– I’m an eternal optimist, for those who know me would agree with that. I just believe that we are certainly on the upside of this and that 2021, there is a great light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still going to have some setbacks. I think for me, that mental part of just being mentally exhausted, not physically, unfortunately, I should go out and do more walking and all of that, but that’s been really more difficult to deal with. Then trying to just keep everyone in a positive mode and encouraging and those kinds of things.

Chris: Thank you for sharing that. It’s powerful to hear from both of you and a good reminder that, everyone has experienced this time, differently. Even if you don’t have a story to tell, in the sense of a particular battle with an illness or COVID, everyone is wrestling with something, has been affected by this and that was true before the pandemic, too. Anyone who has had a family member who’s dealt with any kind of disability and some of the ways that those can feel invisible in the world, but be very present to us, when what’s happening inside or in our lives privately know that, all of us are dealing with something.

I think for me, the pandemic has really brought out that tendency that I found for myself to start judging or to start evaluating or comparing, levels of pain or ways in which we’re affected. That just becomes so toxic so quickly. When I’ve been able to just appreciate that everyone’s having a different experience, and that I may never know their full story, but that I have to trust, that if they’re asking me to wear a mask for their health or safety, that’s the very least I could do to help them in their journey.

As a community, all of us can appreciate that each of us is living out a story. We may not know each other’s story, but we can do things to help each other be safe and as healthy or happy as possible along the way. Thank you for those reminders and for helping us think about that.

Mary: Chris, and Ashley, I think one of the other bright spots that may come from this devastating time that we’ve all been through, is that this may allow the opportunity to even more so takeaway stigmas from, say, the mental health area, and how can we– because more people have experienced that and are speaking out more so about the mental health, just using that as an example.

My hope is that through this bad experience, that will help release those stigmas and provide more assistance for those areas that we so desperately need. As we all know, just talking about mental health, it truly is a chemical imbalance, it’s not anything that we can or cannot take care of ourselves. My hope is through this pandemic, all of the different feelings that each of us are going through, that we can utilize that to really better when times get better, to use that for vantage and put more dollars where they need to go.

Ashley: Absolutely. One reminder on my side as well, Mary, you said, “Bright spot.” I think a lot about the stolen moments of connection that I probably wouldn’t have had if I didn’t slow down. I was definitely the person that overbooked my schedule, I’m a high achiever by nature, I just go, go, go, go, go. When this happened, I paused, and I reflected, and I got more time. I know, in-joke, that it must have been 24/7 with my family in the beginning.

How great is it that I was able to spend that much more time with my son that I wouldn’t have had before. How great is that, even though my husband lost his job, now he works from home, and we can both be there to pick him up from school or drop him off. There are silver linings that I do think will bubble up as you start to see those pieces come together. To me, when I’m really struggling, I go back to those. I go back to, what are three things I can be grateful for right now, what is the silver lining that I need to really bubble up because I’m not able to see it in the midst of chaos or being overwhelmed?

To Mary’s point, I am always pretty vocal about myself and my life. Even through work, I would try to cover it up. I would just try to act like, “Oh, I got it, I got it. No, I’ll take on more. It’s fine.” Today, I had a call with my boss, and I was like, “I’m burnt out. I’m exhausted, I’m burnout. Six hours of meetings in a day is not sustainable for me.” I wouldn’t have said that a year ago, I can 100% guarantee I would have just covered it up and tried to keep going. If you’re listening, maybe now’s a good time to just write down what are three things that you think are your silver linings? That you know, “I can always go back to those when I start to feel really stressed out.”

Mary: Great point.

Chris: Absolutely. It’s clear that this storytelling will have value for all of us, well beyond even the current public health situation. I just want to thank you both for your work and the whole group that’s been a part of creating this. If someone is listening today, and they want to get involved and help share these stories, help amplify them, help our community have these conversations, what do you want them to do?

Mary: They could certainly contact me or Ashley, my email is mwalker at They can also go to our website, and get involved, and look at the different ways that we’re utilizing the Share Your Story communication things, but certainly, just letting us know that they have an interest. They can also share their own story by posting a selfie and loading it up to our website so that others can see that and feel connected, that they don’t feel all alone. I think there’s a variety of ways. If anyone wants to join our team, again, let me know, email me, that would be awesome. We will absolutely get you involved.

Chris: That’s great. That website, again, is You’re also on Facebook, Instagram, and there’s lots of ways for people to find you and get involved. We’ll link to those in the notes for this podcast episode so folks can follow those as well.

Mary: May I add one thing?

Chris: Absolutely.

Mary: This is time-sensitive, so this is a fun thing. Through our group, there is a design a mask contest that anyone can participate in, whether they’re young or old or older that think young. The deadline is Friday, the 29th. We ask everyone to go on our website, again,, and create your own design. From that, there’ll be a winner, that we will have Black Dog Printing, our local printing shop will do the printing of those designs, and we’ll be getting those out to the public. It’s a fun way to get involved, to have fun with wearing a mask and be proud of it.

Ashley: Absolutely. If anybody’s listening and they’re like, “Wow, I missed the deadline.” It might even be a month from now. You should go to the website and see what design we made because we’ll be able to show you what we actually did. Mary, that’s one final point just to really reinforce this to the campaign. We wanted to support local artists and local companies through any efforts that we did, so we use Mandy Ford Designs for the coloring sheets, really thinking of people in the community. If we’re going to invest community dollars and tell community stories, we better be spending the money local and that’s what we’ve done.

Chris: That’s awesome. Mary Walker, Ashley Sieb, thank you so much for all that you’re doing. Thanks for your time and the conversation today. We wish all of us as a community I guess the best in taking these stories in, seeing how they affect us, and seeing how they change the way we think about getting through this together. Thank you.

Ashley and Mary: Thank you.

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