The Importance of Storytelling

by Tom Gillespie

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  ― Philip Pullman

Tom G

Storytelling is as old as human interaction. Stories help us interact and understand each other. They help us grow as individuals on a smaller level, and cultures and societies on a greater level. They are responsible for the formation of religions, governments, partnerships and interpersonal relationships. From cave drawings to scholarly journals, we use stories to learn from one another, to challenge one another, to motivate others and to enact individual and social change.

But stories – no matter how good or important – are lost without storytellers. The storyteller brings perspective and context to the story. The storyteller shows his or her audience why they should care about the story and, more importantly, what action should be taken as a result of the story’s outcome.

At Hammer, we are surrounded by stories. Stories about Hammer’s long, rich history. Stories of the people who work here. Stories of the individuals we serve and the families we work with. We share these stories to inform each other, to further establish and reinforce our values and our mission, and to make sense of our industry and what the future may hold.

Over the last ten years I have enjoyed watching Hammer increasingly get better at telling the wonderful stories about the people we serve and the people we employ. For ninety years, Hammer has established itself an innovative organization that cares and invests in the individuals living and working here. However, true to the “Minnesota Nice” mindset, Hammer has done much of this in a very humble manner. Much of our success in the last decade has helped us not only take pride in our work, but it has helped us become more outgoing and better able to share our stories throughout our industry and beyond.


Chief Program Officer Lisbeth Armstrong and Tom Gillespie at the 2012 ARRM Technology Summit

As a part of that pursuit, I have had the pleasure of becoming one of Hammer’s storytellers. I have spoken on Hammer’s behalf a number of times throughout the last year-and-a-half. Beginning with an ARRM presentation on Hammer’s use of assistive technology and partnership with organizations who are developing technologies. I continued this year with opportunities at the MSSA Annual Training and Conference Expo, Minnesota’s Age & Disabilities Odyssey, Hammer’s Annual Meeting, and will be taking to the podium again at another ARRM-related presentation in the coming months. I have been able to speak about the work we have done in our homes and apartment programs, and how we are using technology to stretch the traditional service models and approaches. In each case, I have shared stories of the wonderful work that Hammer’s DSPs and management have done to shift the paradigm from a readiness model (waiting for an individual to display all skills needed to live independently) to a support-focused model that focuses on the supports an individual needs to live more independently now.

In all cases, I was thrilled to speak about the success we have achieved here at Hammer while at the same time challenging and motivating other providers to pursue similar working models. More importantly though, the messages I shared served as a challenge to other organizations and individuals to foster their own innovative spirits to better serve the individuals they support and to get out and tell their stories. The notion of this sort of competitive collaboration, in my opinion, will bring advances in our industry that have the potential to improve the services and results across our industry.

So as my story comes to a close, I challenge each of you to identify the aspects of your work that you are most proud of. Whether you shout it from the rooftop or tell a friend over coffee, be sure you tell your stories early and often, and challenge others to do the same.


  1. Julane Rose

    Nice job, Tom!

  2. Elspeth Lucas

    A fabulously-told story, Tom!


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