This Friday, as most people are winding up their workweek and thinking about downtime, a dozen volunteers will be rolling up their sleeves and getting down to work. The newest group of Threads of Life speakers will spend three days preparing to promote health and safety by sharing their intimate, heart-breaking, hopeful stories.
The weekend of training, though, is not the first step in becoming a Threads of Life speaker. For some, the decision to speak publicly about their experience was easy and obvious. For others, there were months of internal debate: should I do this? CAN I do this? Am I ready? As Threads of Life staff, we can help a bit with those questions, but ultimately only the volunteer-to-be knows whether the choice to be a speaker is right for him or her.
Once the decision is made, and in the months leading up to training, the new volunteers face the task of writing down their story. Getting it all down on paper for the first time can be one of the hardest hurdles they face – it means walking all the way down that road again, looking directly and closely at what happened, opening your heart and writing about what you find there. For a few people, the difficulty of writing the story helps them figure out they’re not ready to tell it in public yet – and that’s fine. They’ll know when the time is right.
When training weekend finally arrives, the new speaker volunteers are in for a tiring, intensive experience. We talk about what it means to be a Threads of Life speaker, how to look after themselves and cope with the emotions triggered by telling their stories, how to manage their nerves, how to leave listeners with some action they can take in response to the story they’ve heard. We spend time building a Powerpoint slide show as a visual aid, and we review the messages Threads of Life hopes to leave with each audience.
And finally, towards the end of the weekend, each new speaker volunteer stands up and gives his or her presentation to the other volunteers. It’s a small, supportive audience – but sometimes that’s harder than talking to a room full of strangers.
By the time they home on Monday, we hope our new volunteer speakers have a sense of accomplishment, some new friends, and have experienced the healing that comes from not just sharing their story, but telling it in order to protect others from similar hazards.
Our volunteers this weekend are coming from across the country – Newfoundland in the east to British Columbia in the west. They are bringing with them stories that relate to road and vehicle hazards, health hazards, chemical hazards, construction, and more. Those who are not destined to speak before crowds, will still have skills they can use when talking to friends and neighbours about health and safety. And the new speakers in the group will join roughly 60 others already active across Canada. Either way, our new volunteers will play an important role in changing health and safety culture in this country.