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Storytelling Program

General information

Hosted by The Office of Diversity and Equity

The Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) storytelling program empowers community members to share their stories of recovery and wellness to heal and to address issues within their communities. Participants engage in workshops that help them create and share their stories in different forms. Beginning with a framing question, facilitators support participants to share their stories as Photovoices or Digital Stories.

Considering structural impacts on wellness such as racism, discrimination, and poverty, these workshops broaden the definition of recovery and reduce stigma. The stories shared are both personal and powerful. For some, they have created a sense of connection, and for others, they have opened the doors to treatment and recovery. Stories captured in San Mateo County shed light on important social issues including stigma against mental health and substance abuse and support the empowerment of others with lived experience to share their stories.

Contact Nicoletta Kelleher at or (650) 649-8411 to learn more about the program!

Read our storytelling one-pager here.

To learn more about how the program works, read the Storytelling program framework.

Want to share some of these stories? Read this guide.

Read about our accomplishments in fiscal year 16-17 in our ODE Storytelling Report.

Digital Stories

Digital stories are, short, 2-3 minute videos that host a narrative as well as visuals. Participants create their stories using photo, video, and audio to describe their lived experience. Digital stories are created during a 3-day workshop (20 hours total) administered by trained ODE facilitators.

The following stories were created in various workshops conducted in partnership with local agencies and community-based organizations throughout San Mateo County.

Heart & Soul — The Power of Hope in Recovery

Iris’ Story
Iris explains how she felt ignored and silenced by many people because of her developmental disability. When she attends college, she is able to be involved in more activities and lead her own life.
Storytelling Program

Yvette’s Story
Yvette expresses the self-hate she experienced after she was verbally and sexually abused as a child, which caused her to take it out on her son. She talks about how the church gave her the strength to find forgiveness and embrace her son.
Storytelling Program

Karen’s Story
Karen talks about her life-long addiction to stimulants and her battle with ADD and major depression. Now, she works at Heart & Soul and has been sober for 20 years.
Storytelling Program

Denise’s Story
Denise talks about her addiction and drinking after her father’s death. After receiving psychological support and joining recovery programs, she comes to the realization that support is all around us and that recovery is a lifelong process.
Storytelling Program

Alexandra’s Story
Alexandra describes her struggle with depression, personality disorder, and anxiety. She’s come a long way to cope and grow from her experiences.
Storytelling Program

Human Services Agency – Independent Living Program (August 2014)

Transitional age youth share their stories as they prepare to exit the foster care system.

What Makes Me Special – by James Wilson
James describes the struggles he faced as a young child living with his mother and in foster care. After beginning a series of bad habits, James decides to change his life.
Storytelling Program 

Brenda’s Story - by Brenda Recinos
Benda retells the emotional anguish she experienced when searching for her mother’s nurturing care. She expresses the great appreciation she has for her foster parents who gave her the love and security she needed.
Storytelling Program

Letter To Be Told - by Allen Washington
Allen admits to the mistakes he committed while his child was growing up. Despite the damage, Allen is always going to support his child because the love he has is unconditional.
Storytelling Program

My Story – by Lina Severino
This story describes the experience of not fitting in and not letting negative remarks define who one has to be.
Storytelling Program

The Odd Life of Tim – by Timothy Curran
A story showcasing how music and poetry serve a as an outlet describing the emotions that were felt when living in foster care. 
Storytelling Program  

African-American Community Initiative

Members of San Mateo County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services’ African-American Community Initiative share experiences of discrimination, self-discovery, and faith.

Now It’s Me -
This story describes the struggles and depression experienced following the death of a mother and the change in lifestyle.
Storytelling Program

Chester – by Chester
A story about being happy with one’s self and standing up to negativity.
Storytelling Program

Chinese Health Initiative 

A group of Chinese-International and Chinese-American students share their experiences around culture, family and social pressures.

Be Myself - by Sylvia Tan
Sylvia describes the constant pressure and expectations she faced at home with her family. She no longer wants to feel the negativity encasing her, and now lives the way that makes her happy.
Storytelling Program

Andrew - by Andrew Lin
Andrew describes the pressures he experiences living at home with his parents. Playing video games and talking with friends in similar situations as his are his ways of coping.
Storytelling Program

Shoufeng Qu – by Shoufeng Qu (Nokia)
Nokia explains his fascination and dream of flying and becoming a pilot, but all that is shattered when he discovers his phobia of flying. After learning more about phobias, he is determined to overcome this challenge in hopes of accomplishing his dream.
Storytelling Program

Pacific Islander Initiative

Nine – by Agnes
This story describes the experience of abuse by a clergyman, the lack of support from family and the use of faith to survive the trauma.
Storytelling Program

Who I Am – by Brittany
Brittany the eldest of nine siblings describes the tensions she felt growing up as a child while having a very strict father. Following the death of her father and learning about his substance abuse, Brittany uses what she learned while growing up, as a way to care for her family and remain close.
Storytelling Program

Inamorato Bravado – by Danny
This story describes the stigma and stereotypes related to one’s personal sexual orientation preference. It also shows how to accept and be proud of one’s self. 
Storytelling Program

I’m OK, You’re Ok – by Neo
Neo remembers the suffering he went through due to his preference in sexual orientation. After hearing a positive message about gay men, Neo learned that is was ok to be gay and developed an organization to help others in the LGBTQ community so they don’t experience what he did.
Storytelling Program

Spirituality Initiative

Members of San Mateo County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services’ Spirituality Initiative tell their stories of spirituality, family, and recovery.

Mary – by Mary
This story describes the importance of self-care and healing through spirituality and learning to accept love from others.
Storytelling Program

Alan – by Alan
A story recounting the journey of finding spirituality and being at peace with God.
Storytelling Program

Inge – by Inge
This story describes how building a spiritual faith is of great importance to help overcome family challenges.
Storytelling Program

Clennan – by Clennan Williams
This story describes the struggles and depression experienced following the death of a mother and the change in lifestyle.
Through his spirituality journey, self-healing, and family bonding, Clennan shares his praise for his three best friends.
Storytelling Program

Youth—Middle School

Zariah’s Story – by Zariah
Young Zariah describes her ordeal of living with sickle cell and all the pain and stress related to such. Thanks to her friendships and better able to manage the stresses in her life, Zariah has been able to overcome the pains caused by her illness.
Storytelling Program

Middle School Problems – by Jessica
Jessica describes her experience at school as a special learner. She learns to accept her condition and even though she receives extra help in school, her situation does not make her different from the rest of the students.
Storytelling Program

An Unexpected Touchdown – by Rayshaun
Rayshaun retells his passion for football as a 5th grader and how that came to an end due to taunting. Traumatized from the ridicule, he no longer wanted to play the sport, until one of his friends encouraged him to play again.
Storytelling Program

Why me? Tonnia’s Story
This story describes the importance of staying true to one’s self no matter the confronted challenges. 
Storytelling Program

Lived Experience Academy

High Risk – by Zena
Zena describes the affliction she went through when one of her children suffers from a mental health disorder. She explains how sometimes the love parents have for their children may cause them to be in denial when their children suffer from an illness.
Storytelling Program

Still I Conquered – by Aisha
Aisha describes her experience of living with various mental health disorders and not having the family support. Despite all her struggles, Aisha has managed to overcome her obstacles and stay grounded.
 Storytelling Program

LA Story – by Amaal
Amaal retells his experience of living with bipolar disorder and the struggles he faced before receiving the adequate treatment. With the support of physicians and his family, Amaal has overcome is struggles and is living a stable life.
Storytelling Program

Are You Happy? – by Ayana
After her son asked her if she was happy, Ayanna recollects all the struggles she and her children faced while trying to balance all the health issues that affecting her. After seeking help, Ayanna was better able to care for her family and overall be happy.
Storytelling Program

Health Ambassador Program

I Am Almighty – by Alexis
Alexis discover how art is his form of therapy to help with his ongoing depression. Art empowers Alexis and allows him to express himself in a visual and audial form. 
Storytelling Program

To Be Born…Again – by Cardum
Cardum retells the anguish and trauma she felt while growing up due to the abuse she suffered as a child. Through the help of friends and groups, Cardum realizes the importance of living not just for herself, but also for her son and others.
Storytelling Program

El Cambrio (The Change) – by Leo
Leo remembers the troubles his family faced due to his alcoholism. After a natural disaster occurs in his hometown, Leo realizes that it is time for him to make changes for the benefit of his family and himself.
 Storytelling Program

Why I Left My Loved Ones and My Country? – by Marta
Marta retells her story of leaving her home country of El Salvador in search of a better life. Once arriving to the United States, Marta soon realizes that life is equally difficult, but despite all the struggles, she still stays strong thanks to the support she receives.
Storytelling Program

Depresion Post-Parto (Postpartum Depression) – by Nora
Nora describes her traumatic experience during her pregnancy when she loses both of her parents. These events have a deep effect on her and result in her postpartum depression. 
Storytelling Program

Courage, Love, Life – by Sandy
Sandy explains the pride she feels to be the mother of her three children, despite all the traumas she has experienced. Her children are her driving force and also give her the strength to live.
Storytelling Program

Center for Digital Storytelling (2012-2013)

ODE partnered with the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley for a series of workshops, including one train-the-trainer session. Community members shared their diverse stories during these workshops and include experiences of culture, community, race, recovery, and family.


  • Heidi Storytelling Program
  • Nani Storytelling Program
  • Chase Storytelling Program
  • Tony Storytelling Program


  • I’m Home Storytelling Program
  • Everyone Is Welcome Storytelling Program
  • Someone Else’s Time Storytelling Program
  • Consumed Storytelling Program
  • Every Piece of My Broken Heart Storytelling Program
  • Niños – Niñas Storytelling Program

Through a partnership with the Inspire USA Foundation, we invited four young adults to share their stories. Young filmmakers from the Bay Area Video Coalition’s Factory program then interpreted these stories into short films which were distributed on the Reach Out website.

  • Finding Your Purpose Storytelling Program
  • Scar Storytelling Program
  • Write It Out Storytelling Program
  • Success is Different For Everyone Storytelling Program


Photovoice is a 4-day (8 hours total) process by which people can identify, represent, and enhance their community through photography. Final projects exhibit a single-page layout of a photo and short written piece.

Hope for Change from LEEW 2021

A group of dedicated consumer leaders from the Lived Experience and Education Workgroup (LEEW) worked together to explore the ways in which they find hope. They examined their own lives, reflected and shared with others in order to attune with, photograph and then write about the sources of hope that each ones has, and from where each finds meaning and orientation. The LEEW members hope this collection of pieces will help viewers learn about their lives and the integral role that hope has in their lives in recovery.

This Photovoice Workshop was possible with the help of the Office of Diversity & Equity and the Office of Consumer & Family Affairs.

View the full Photovoice series here

Substance Use and Suicide 2017

In collaboration with the Office of Diversity and Equity, Service Connect, and the African American Community Initiative, this group of storytellers came together to share the ways that they have been affected by the issues of substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. At the Black History Month kick-off event, the storytellers shared their photovoices and sat on a panel to answer questions and discuss the way the topics of their photovoices interact with the African American community.

Recovery Happens 2017

Community members in recovery shared their stories in response to the question: “What does ‘recovery happens’ mean to you?” Some shared stories of celebration, while others shared stories of hardship and resilience. Stories are intended to broaden the definition of recovery and to prove that recovery is possible.

Lived Experience Education Workgroup Pop-Up Photovoice 

Members of the Lived Experience Education Workgroup (LEEW) shared their stories in response to the framing question: What makes an effective ally to those with lived experience? Stories included themes of trauma, advice on how to be supportive and a better listener, and personal mementos of allyship. Read these stories to learn how to be a better ally and get in touch with LEEW by contacting the Office of Consumer and Family Affairs. 

San Mateo Pride Pop-Up Photovoice 2017

Attendees at San Mateo County’s 2017 Pride Celebration shared their stories about what ‘Pride’ means to them. People shared their LGBTQ+ stories as well as their stories of allyship. Stories include moments of affirmation and pride, trauma, as well as conversations about values.

Parent Project Reunion Pop-Up Photovoice 2017

Attendees at Parent Project’s 2017 annual reunion shared their experiences of Parent Project and wellness. Parent Project is a, free, 12-week course on parenting that is offered in English and Spanish to anyone who cares for a child or adolescent.

College of San Mateo Pop-Up Photovoice 2017

Attendees at the 2017 May Mental Health Awareness Kick-Off event at the College of San Mateo shared their experiences and perceptions of mental health. People in helping roles, people facing mental health challenges, as well as allies and others who do not experience mental health issues shared their stories.

St. Francis of Assisi Church 2017

Pacific Islander youth engaged in conversations about mental health for the first time in their lives. 

North County 2017

Participants responded to the framing question, “What is your journey in behavioral health?”

Youth Services Center (juvenile hall) 2017

Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) partnered with Youth Services Center to conduct a Photovoice program. 5 of the youth shared their stories. Throughout our 1-on-1 sessions, youth expressed unmet needs to have their strengths and values recognized, that they are often portrayed as ‘problem children’, that they enjoy mental health services, and that they have been affected by trauma. They worked hard to create the best Photovoices they could. 

Black Lives Matter 2017

In January, ODE Storytelling collaborated with the African American Community (Mental Health) Initiative to host a Photovoice program with the theme “Black Lives Matter”. Four participants came together to answer the question: “What does Black Lives Matter mean to you?” By the end of the workshop, participants completed a Photovoice project and co-wrote this accompanying call-to-action: 

“The community needs to know that Black Lives Matter isn’t just about senseless killings of unarmed African Americans, but it is about the systematic oppression and invisible killings of African Americans: physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and financially. Black Lives Matter means loving black, buying black, and being undeniably black. Black Lives Matter means knowing who our leaders are. Black Lives Matter is one of many attempts black people have made to get fair treatment in this country and it’s a shame we are still asking.”

Older Adult Central 2016

Spring 2012

Winter 2011


“Where/When do you feel stigmatized?”

Chinese Health Initiative

“Stigma and cultural assimilation of mental health consumers living in San Mateo County”

Canyon Oaks Youth Center  

“Can youth in residential treatment maintain a ‘normal’ teenage life and how do they view themselves?”

Sequoia High School - ODE & PCRC

Students address issues faced by the Latino community.

Spirituality Initiative

Shedding light on the relationship between spirituality and health—often ignored, misunderstood, and suppressed by most mental health systems in the U.S. Spiritual engagement can be found in many aspects of life that lead to health, wellness, and recovery.

Latino Collaborative

The first FotoVoz project held in Spanish was hosted at the North County Clinic. The project was open to consumers, family members, and their friends.
“What are the economic contributions of the Latino worker in your neighborhood?”

Sequoia High School Dream Club

Students did a photographic study of places where they felt safe and welcomed and then chose to juxtapose images of unwelcome places or places where they did not feel safe. Fifteen photos were selected by the students in the Dream Club for presentation in PhotoVoice.

Service Connect 2018

People who receive services at Service Connect shared their stories of freedom in response to the framing question “What does freedom mean and what does it look like for you today?”. Many of the participants were recently incarcerated and their stories include themes of freedom of choice, freedom to take care of themselves, as well as substance use recovery. During the workshop, one member of the group shared a very insightful statement: ‘You can’t judge peoples’ character if they are wealthy and have an opportunity to steal and don’t steal. Instead, it means a lot if you need to steal and you don’t.’

Nuestra Casa 2018

People in the Promotoras & Family Advocate program at Nuestra Casa shared their stories in response to the framing question, “What does Nuestra Casa mean to you?”. The question holding a double meaning of “our house”, as well as the name of the organization, was an opportunity for people to share their stories with relevance to the federal issues on immigration. Stories include themes of mental health recovery, housing, and discrimination.

Maguire Correctional Facility – Men’s Pod 2018

Men in custody at Maguire Correctional Facility shared their stories of recovery in jail. The storytellers shared stories of the moments in which things turned around for the better as well as the lessons they have learned throughout their journeys.

Safespace 2018

Youth at local non-profit, Safespace, shared their experiences of coping of mental health as well as offering the lessons they have learned when coping with and supporting others with their mental health challenges. Safespace works to educate and help young people advocate for better mental health services throughout their local schools and community. Stories include themes of hardship and resilience and include both youth and adult perspectives. Fun fact: this was out first youth led and facilitated Photovoice workshop!

Coastside Mental Health Center 2018

In collaboration with James Matters (Clinician at Coastside Mental Health Clinic), ODE Storytelling held a workshop addressing the stigma of behavioral health. Participants in James’ weekly group therapy groups identified a community issue though their experiences of feeling invalidated and misunderstood when other community members claimed that they “didn’t look sick” upon disclosing their behavioral health diagnosis. Participants shared their stories to show the different ways that people can be affected by behavioral health and the stories were shown at an open house at Coastside mental health clinic. 

One East Palo Alto 2018

In collaboration with One East Palo Alto (OEPA), ODE Storytelling facilitated a Photovoice workshop about substance use in East Palo Alto. The cohort of storytellers included people of all ages and stages in their substance use and recovery. The diversity of cohort members inspired valuable conversations for the storytellers: people in recovery had the opportunity to provide insight to the youth who are using substances and the youth were able to share their experiences to be understood by the other participants. Stories included themes of traumatization, peer-pressure, bias, and recovery.

Maple St. Jail

ODE Storytelling collaborated with Correctional Health Services (CHS) and the Sheriff’s Office to invite women from the Choices program, the Behavioral Health Pod, and the ASPIRE program participate in the first Photovoice cohort. Four women participated to share their stories in response to the framing question: ‘What does recovery look like for you in jail?’ The women in the cohort shared their stories of recovery, including themes of trauma (domestic violence), substance abuse, hope and success, as well as hopelessness and personal surrender.

Arab American Wellness

Arab and Arab America students at Jefferson High School came together to share their stories about mental health. Since stories of mental health in the Arab American community are sparse, these young people are leaders in pioneering a very important conversation for their community. In response to the framing question, “What does mental wellness look like in your community?”, the participants shared their stories as Photovoices. The final Photovoices included themes of isolation, feeling misunderstood, struggling with mental health issues, resilience, and a lack of mental health support.

Hospice and End of Life

ODE Storytelling partnered with Mission Hospice and Home Care to host a Photovoice program on the topic of death and dying. Death and dying is a stigmatized issue that affects the healthcare of people who are nearing the end of their lives and that affects the mental wellbeing of families who are coping with loss. Challenging the stigma and isolation associated with death and dying, Mission Hospice & Home Care works to ensure that people at the end life receive appropriate care through compassion, conversations, and education. Stories include positive frames on loss, philosophies on death and dying, and healthy coping skills.

Spirituality in Recovery

In collaboration with the Spirituality Initiative and Jamie Griffin (CSIP intern), ODE Storytelling hosted a Photovoice workshop about the power of spirituality in recovery. The group identified that spirituality is invalidated among therapists and other behavioral health providers, and needs to be understood to provide better care. Stories include themes of loss, substance abuse, mental health issues, religion, and spirituality being a key part of recovery.