Tool 3: Identifying & Developing Your Story

We keep referring to Included. Supported. Empowered. as a “storytelling” initiative, but what does that mean? What do we mean by “story” in this context? And how do you know what makes for a good story?

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran when it comes to storytelling or you simply have an idea for what might be a good story but don’t know what to do with it, this tool is for you.

In This Section

  • Overview of stories in the context of Included. Supported. Empowered.
  • Questions for identifying compelling stories
  • Sample stories, with brief descriptions of how they came to fruition
  • How the ANCOR Foundation can help you identify, refine and share your story
  • Related resources

Imagine that your city government hired you to design a campaign to persuade residents to engage in behavior that’s more environmentally sustainable. There are a variety of ways you could attempt to influence members of your community: you could share facts about the amount of plastics that get dumped into our oceans each year, you could talk about the impact of carbon emissions on wildlife, or you could create an infographic about the amount of money the city would save each year if people reused household items rather than throwing them in the trash.

Another option? Tell the story of a family who lived next to a polluted lake and experienced health challenges as a result. In that story, you could talk about how Sandra, a single mother of twin 5-year-old boys, knew that the water was unsafe, but couldn’t afford to move to a different part of town. You could talk about how Sandra’s asthma was exacerbated by the poor air quality in her community, causing her to miss work, spend more on doctor’s visits, and find a babysitter for Matteo and Miguel. And, you could talk about how, with the help of the city’s sustainability initiative, Sandra was able to get involved in an effort to clean up the lake by knowing who to call to report dumping by local businesses. Though it’s been a long road, the lake is now a place Sandra enjoys walking with her boys after school each day, rather than a place she dreaded going because she didn’t know just how long she could last without her inhaler.

Sandra’s story is a perfect example of…well, a story. When we talk about “stories,” we simply mean anything a person could read or watch to better understand an issue. Typically, stories take a narrative format, meaning they center around a person or group of people, rather than simply stating facts in an effort to be informative. In this particular instance, Sandra is the heroine of the story, with Matteo and Miguel playing supportive roles. Sandra’s journey from illness to happiness comprises a narrative arc in which change was made possible when the right set of circumstances came together. And, for the reader, it’s not hard to imagine how Sandra felt at various points on that arc.

The stories we seek to tell through Included. Supported. Empowered. are not unlike Sandra’s story. They may come in a variety of formats—a short paragraph with a photo published on Facebook, a 300-word news article, an in-depth blog post describing the challenges and opportunities providers face in serving people with disabilities, a video that celebrates the success of a program…the list goes on and on.

Likewise, the stories that comprise the heart of Included. Supported. Empowered. are published in a variety of places. You’ll find them in your local newspaper, on a community blog, on a provider’s YouTube channel, in providers’ electronic newsletters, on the website of your local news station, in special interest magazines, on Medium and in a variety of other venues.

Given the diversity of stories we’re already telling—and the wide array of stories we hope to tell in the future—chances are that you know of a story that’s ripe for the picking. Whether it’s a story of triumph (e.g., someone with complex medical needs who was able to transition to independence thanks to committed providers and innovative technology) or tribulation (e.g., someone who lost their competitive employment job because funding that paid for the individual’s job coach was slashed), the Included. Supported. Empowered. campaign was designed precisely to help you identify, develop and share your own stories that highlight the successes of people with I/DD and the important role providers play in bringing those successes to fruition.

Before you can develop a compelling story, you need to know where to look. Below are a series of questions to ask when determining what might be good fodder for a compelling story.

    • How do you describe the programs your organization operates and communicate the value of those programs? Is there a person or event that serves as your “go-to” example when describing your programs’ successes? If so, that person or event can be the focus of your story. (Be sure to apply these questions to each of the programs you operate.)
    • Does your organization bestow any awards, perhaps upon an outstanding DSP, program manager or self-advocate? Or, have you nominated any of these people for awards bestowed by other organizations? If so, the recipients (and many of the nominees, too) of these awards would be ideal fodder for a story, as the anecdotes that helped them stand out in their nominations are the same anecdotes that make for great stories.
    • Often, examples of triumph in the face of tribulation make for great stories. Has there been a particularly challenging moment that your agency, your direct support staff or the individuals you support have had to overcome? For example, did a hurricane or other natural disaster leave several DSPs displaced? Or, did a fire in one of your group homes leave the individuals you support homeless? If so, what role did your staff play in helping the individuals they support apply for temporary assistance or find new housing? Often, these “above and beyond” moments drive home the powerful role of providers in a clear and compelling way.
    • Is there an individual you support whose experience could be described as transformative? For example, is there someone who went from needing intensive supports to being able to live independently? Or, do you support someone who transformed intense behavioral challenges into a small but thriving business selling their art with the help of an art therapy program? Often, the clearest demonstrations of the power of providers are those that show significant change in individuals’ outcomes.

Generally speaking, there are three ways by which stories developed for the Included. Supported. Empowered. campaign have become published: (1) campaign staff pitch a storyline to an outlet, and the outlet writes and publishes the story, (2) campaign staff write a story and submit it to an outlet to be published, (3) campaign staff write a story and publish it on the campaign website or other owned media.

This section offers three examples of stories that have been published—one for each of the methods described above—along with explanations for how each came to be published.

Example 1: Leroy’s Story

In September 2018, Indian Country Today, an online news outlet targeted toward Native Americans that covers Native issues, published a story about Leroy Bryant, the 2018 National DSP of the Year.

The writer of the story, Lisa Ellwood—a correspondent for Indian Country Today—learned about Leroy because the ANCOR Foundation reached out to Vincent Schilling, the news outlet’s editor. In the pitch, ANCOR Foundation staff noted that Leroy’s story would be good fodder for an article in Indian Country Today not only because Leroy is Native American, but also because the four individuals he supports are Native and he had gone to great lengths to ensure they maintained strong ties to their Native identities.

ANCOR Foundation staff were able to make a compelling pitch to Vincent, who assigned the story to Lisa, because Leroy’s story was eloquently articulated in the letter that his employer, Dungarvin, Inc., wrote to nominate him for ANCOR’s 2018 DSP of the Year award.

Example 2: Mindy’s Story

In June 2018, the Times Argus, the local paper in Barre, Vermont, published a story about Mindy Sprague, a woman with an intellectual disability who overcame some intense behavioral challenges and learned to give back to the community with the support of her Direct Support Professional, Rosie Emmons.

Like Leroy’s story, ANCOR Foundation staff learned about Mindy and Rosie because Rosie was named Vermont’s 2018 DSP of the Year. Although the letter nominating Rosie for this honor was compelling, it was hearing about Rosie and Mindy in person in the story booth at ANCOR’s 2018 Annual Conference that made clear just how important this story was to tell.

ANCOR Foundation staff believed that the story belonged in the local media, as people in the Barre community deserved to know that each week, Mindy sold lunches to local workers and donated some of the proceeds to charity. But, because small newspapers don’t necessarily have the capacity to assign stories like these to correspondents the same way Indian Country Today was able to assign Lisa to Leroy’s story, the ANCOR Foundation decided to contract a freelance writer. Jenny Armini, the author of the Times Argus story, got in touch with Mindy and Rosie to conduct a phone interview, and then wrote the story. With a fully written (and lovely!) article about the ways in which Rosie supported Mindy to pursue her passion, ANCOR Foundation staff approached the editor at the Times Argus, who sent a photographer to capture some compelling visuals and then published Mindy’s story for the broader Barre community to see.

Example 3: Louis’ Story

In August 2018, ANCOR Foundation staff published a story about Louis Scarantino, a self-advocate with Autism from Pennsylvania, on the Included. Supported. Empowered. website.

ANCOR Foundation staff first learned about Louis because he submitted a short description of his story through the Included. Supported. Empowered. campaign website. Although brief, what Louis shared caught our attention immediately, and we knew we needed to learn more so we could craft a story that would draw the eyes of our growing community. At the same time, Louis’ story wasn’t compelling because of something he did. Rather, it was an opportunity raise up who he is—a passionate advocate who has overcome a great deal with the help of his providers and therapists, and who is eager to empower other people with Autism to seize the opportunities their communities present.

Therefore, to craft the story, ANCOR Foundation staff conducted a phone interview with Louis to get more information. Once the article was written and Louis confirmed that we had captured his story accurately, the rest was easy: rather than pitching the story, as we did in Mindy’s case, we simply published it at and promoted it via social media to draw as much attention to it as possible.

Lessons & Insights

Although the three examples above give an insider’s look into the innerworkings of the Included. Supported. Empowered. campaign, they’re not offered for that purpose. Rather, these three examples are offered because they’re illustrative of a few important lessons to keep in mind as you identify and craft your own stories:

    • You don’t necessarily need to engage the media—or even know how to—in order to successfully craft and share a story. As Louis’ story suggests, an equally effective strategy for drawing attention to your story is to publish it on your “owned” media—the platforms over which you have total editorial control. Of course, once you’ve published it, the work is just getting started—be sure to promote it on your website, in emails and newsletters, via social media and more. “Shout it from the rooftops” is a much better strategy than “disseminate and pray.”
    • If you decide to engage the media, remember that reporters and editors are often as eager to share powerful stories as you are.When we think of “the media,” we often think about well-known reporters at high-profile outlets, but when it comes to issues of interest in local communities, people are as likely to read, say, the Barre Times Argus as they are the New York Times. At the same time, outlets like the Times Argus don’t have the same resources to pursue every story that might be interesting. Therefore, approaching reporters and editors with a fully baked story can be a much surer way to get visibility for the important work you do. In other words, don’t let the fact that media relations can feel mystifying prevent you from reaching out and building relationships with folks at your local news outlets. And, if you are someone who finds the media relations process intimidating, check out Tool 7 in this toolkit.
    • Stories are all around you, as long as you know where to look.The Included. Supported. Empowered. team was incredibly fortunate that Louis happened to be following the campaign and reached out to share his story when he saw our solicitation. However, as little as 1-2 sentences in a nomination letter are what encouraged us to inquire about Leroy and Mindy’s stories. Similarly, you don’t need to have a full-page spread in your local newspaper in order to bring a story to fruition. If you have as little as an idea and a will to ask some pointed questions, you can turn a fleeting idea into an effective story about the role providers play in facilitating true community inclusion.
    • Don’t forget: you’re not in this alone.In fact, the ANCOR Foundation designed the Included. Supported. Empowered. not only to be a repository for stories, but to help bring more stories into the light. Check out the next section in this tool to learn more about how we can help you help us achieve our shared mission.

Whether you have a beautifully written story that’s ready to be published, or you jotted down a couple ideas on a cocktail napkin at lunch with one of your colleagues and don’t know what to do with it, the team behind Included. Supported. Empowered. is here to help. Examples of how we might be able to support your efforts include working with you to:

    • Determine whether a particular story is worth pursuing.
    • Shape the direction of a story you’re already working on.
    • Guide the writing and editing process to ensure a story you’re working on effectively highlights the role providers play in facilitating community inclusion.
    • Craft a pitch to a reporter or editor who may be interested in developing or publishing a story.
    • Build a list of potential media contacts to whom you might reach out to get a story published.
    • Cross-post a story you’ve already published to
    • Promote a story you’ve already published on the Included. Supported. Empowered. Facebook page.

Additional support may be available—and it never hurts to ask! If you’re interested in seeing how ANCOR Foundation staff might be able to support your efforts, don’t hesitate to reach out via email at

    • Shareable Images: Whether you embed them in your presentations or add them to the content you publish on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, the shareable images in this ZIP folder can help increase engagement among your in-person and virtual audiences.

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