Baltimore, MD - Mar. 28, 2016 - This past January, CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. brought boys in eighth grade from various ethnic backgrounds together for a special Community Conversations project titled, Storytelling in Community: a CHAI Program for Boys.

The boys in the program, who hailed from Talmudic Academy, Cross Country Elementary/Middle, Fallstaff Elementary/Middle, Mt. Washington Elementary/Middle and  Roland Park Elementary/Middle met for five weeks. Together, these 16 boys learned how to share personal stories, listen to each other and appreciate what their peers had to say.

On February 21, CHAI held the concluding gathering at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC in order to include the boys’ families and friends as well as CHAI board members and area community members in the final conversation.  About 50 people attended and everyone was welcomed, included and appreciated.

The entire project was overseen by CHAI’s Community Conversations Coordinator, Helene Kass, who worked with professional storytellers, Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff and Omari Jeremiah to help the boys find their voices.

At the event, the boys’ families got to experience a full storytelling program, similar to what the boys had been experiencing throughout their four weeks together. Sitting in a large circle at first, everyone got to take turns speaking to the group about their expectations and listen to one person tell their story.  After the story was told, the group broke into pairs, sitting knee to knee, to share appreciations for the story as well as each other. At one point, the group was asked to raise their hands if they felt appreciated. Everyone raised their hands.  They were then asked if they’d ever been in a room where everyone felt appreciated and nearly no one said they had. This was a very emotional moment because it was then that the group realized the true power of their words and realized the true meaning of what the boys had been practicing during their weeks of participation.

“Seeing those boys that very first day with their curiosity and questions, wondering and worrying, and watching that growth into comfort and friendship, joy and laughter and just enjoying their togetherness was a beautiful thing,” says Zunikoff.

“We started with a group of strangers,” Kass adds, “and we ended with a group of people who fell in love with each other.”

The boys’ storytelling project is CHAI’s third Community Conversations program for area middle schoolers. In 2014 CHAI’s Girls’ Photography Project garnered media attention when their photo display opened at Baltimore’s City Hall and on April 14, the Weinberg Park Heights JCC will host the installation of their Boys’ Mural Project of which CHAI helped obtain the teens.

CHAI’s Community Conversations works within their general service areas to intentionally build bridges in order to help to create unified communities that work toward harmony. Their goal is to improve race relations. Community Conversations strives to break down cultural barriers while creating safe places in which to have open conversations.

CHAI, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has the mission to develop and support thriving, stable communities in neighborhoods with a substantial Jewish population.