Helping a town celebrate its stories – and storytellers.

Ajo, Arizona is a small town about a 2 1/2 hour drive west of Tucson. The town is chock-full of stories, thanks to its years as a copper-mining boom town and the mix of cultures (Native Americans, Hispanics and Anglos) who worked the mine. Preserving those stories, as told by the folks who lived them, became a passion for a group of history-minded Ajo residents. In 2008, they formally organized as the Ajo Story Gatherers. Their mission, to videotape interviews with the town elders, and incorporate their remembrances into a video for all to enjoy.

The group faced some initial challenges. One was funding, which was overcome when the Story Gatherers secured a grant from PRO Neighborhoods. A second, and perhaps more daunting challenge, was gaining the skills they needed to create the video. None of the group members had ever embarked on a video project like this before. So group leader Cheryl Langer set out to find someone who could provide the guidance the Story Tellers needed.

After searching the Web, Cheryl found Family Legacy Video’s workshop page. A short time later, she placed a call to Steve Pender. Her question: Could Family Legacy Video hold a video biography workshop in Ajo? Steve and workshop partners Dan Crapsi and Ginny Temple were happy to help – and in October 2008 they travelled to Ajo. The Family Legacy Video team shared their expertise during two days of hands-on sessions (see the November 2008 e-Newsletter) and then wished the Story Gatherers good luck.

Then, this January, an invitation to attend the gala premiere of “Ajo Stories” appeared in Family Legacy Video’s mailbox. Eager to see what the Story Gatherers accomplished, Steve and his wife Halina decided to attend. On the evening of January 30, they strolled into Ajo’s historic Oasis Theatre – and were treated as honored guests. They were seated in the first row, alongside many of the town elders interviewed for the video. During her opening remarks, Cheryl Langer introduced the Penders to the packed house and said that the Story Tellers “couldn’t have succeeded without the workshop conducted by Family Legacy Video.” Then, the lights dimmed, the projectionist pressed “play,” and Ajo’s storytellers filled the big screen with their remembrances, some poignant, some hilarious, of Ajo’s past.

Afterwards, the excited and appreciative audience mingled over coffee and sweets – with the younger folks plying the elders for even more stories. “It was a great evening,” said Steve Pender. “I applaud the Ajo Story Gatherers for preserving the remembrances of their town’s elders. This was a huge undertaking for the group, and I’m honored that Family Legacy Video could be a part of their successful effort.”

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