USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION
HEALTH & HEALING
DRAGONS EYE STUDIO
Since 2008, the Telling Project has produced more than 50 original performances, put more than 180 veterans and family members onstage and performed in 16 states across the nation.
KEVIN FARKAS/VETERANS BREAKFAST CLUB
The Veterans Breakfast Club creates communities centered on storytelling, ensuring that veterans’ histories will not be forgotten and they have a welcoming space to share.
it … maybe this was the reason why I was spared, to talk about the people who weren’t as fortunate as me to make it back,” he said. Stories bind us as humans, helping us understand each other — and ourselves, said Todd DePastino, a former history professor who founded the VBC and now serves as executive director. “There is an almost biological need to take the jumbled confusion of experience that we all have in our lives, to hone it down and externalize it as a narrative,” he said. “I think there’s something very healthy about that.” The VBC is just one of many organizations nationwide now helping veterans with processing and presenting their stories. Some — such as Austin, Texasbased The Telling Project (thetellingproject. org) — craft them into full-scale theater productions. Another, the Armed Services Arts Partnership (asapasap.org), collaborates with Washington, D.C.-based Story District to offer an intensive six-week Storytelling 101 workshop. Each of those
sessions culminates in a graduation performance (the organization also offers similar programs for stand-up comedy, improv and creative writing). And then there are less formal gatherings like the VBC — breakfasts that require no long-term commitment, only an RSVP. At each one, DePastino interviews vets on the spot about their experiences. All have similar goals: To help veterans overcome the considerable obstacles to sorting out and sharing their personal plot lines. Military culture requires and promotes a focus on instinct and teamwork instead of creativity and individuality and comes complete with a lexicon and context often indecipherable to outsiders. Veterans may believe no one cares or fear they’ll be judged for their actions, said Anne Demers, an associate professor of public health at California San José State University, who researches reintegration issues among veterans and their families. CO N T I N U E D