Unicoi County Hospital Junior Board member Norah Ray places a softball in the time capsule to signify her love of softball. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

A year-long project will be on display at Unicoi County Hospital for the next 25 years. Unicoi County Hospital’s inaugural Junior Board officially sealed items for their time capsule on Thursday, May 16.

Ballad Health, in conjunction with The National Storytelling Center, worked with Unicoi County Middle School to establish their First Annual Junior Board. The inaugural Unicoi County Hospital Junior Board was made up of students Audie Brown, Seth Hopson, Makena Riebe, Faith Bennett, Norah Ray and Brian Hughes.

The inaugural junior board chose to do a time capsule focusing on donated stories from the community which center around Unicoi County and the history of Unicoi County Hospital. The board had drop boxes for stories located at The Computer Guy, Jones Hardware, Reba’s Hair shop, Unicoi County Middle School, Calvary Baptist Church, Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church, Unicoi County Family YMCA and at the Unicoi County Hospital for the past month so the public could drop off any stories or artifacts that tell the story of Unicoi County.

“I am so excited about this project, and I know the kids are too,” said Eric Carroll, administrator of Unicoi County Hospital. “The hospital’s junior board has worked extremely hard on this, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. Their contribution will live on in our community for decades.”

A large wooden box, handmade by the father of junior board member Audie Brown, serves as the time capsule and will contain a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, photographs, artifacts from the old hospital and – most importantly – stories. The time capsule will be sealed inside a display case in the lobby of the Unicoi County Hospital for 25 years.

Norah Ray, a sixth-grader at the middle school, said the Junior Board wants this project “to allow future generations to look into the past and make connections to things in their life.”

Seventh-grader Brian Hughes agreed.

“Storytelling can help the hospital learn more about the community,” Hughes said. “Storytelling can help people heal.”

The junior board is part of Unicoi County Hospital’s partnership with the International Storytelling Center. The collaboration is a first-of-its-kind between an arts organization and a health system working together to find new ways to serve patients and promote healthy habits across communities.

“We have had a relationship with the hospital for a long time and this project has been part of a larger program to designate Unicoi County Hospital as a Storytelling Seal of Excellence,” International Storytelling Center Kiran Singh Sirah said. “The Junior Board was a way to have younger members of the community get involved in telling the story of the area, it has been a way to have the community use storytelling in a way to unite the area.”

According to Sirah, storytelling plays a crucial part in healing.

“In many cultures around the world, storytelling provides healing,” Sirah said. “In fact in many traditional cultures, the word for medicine is story. Stories are something that provide public health for the community.”

The partnership involves multiple projects, including the establishment of a junior board to encourage input from local youth. Each year, the junior board will complete a project to benefit both the hospital and the community, and it will be challenged to listen to the needs of the community and consider creative ways to address them.

Their monthly meeting agenda involves discussing community engagement, time management and project development. They have also practiced interviewing skills in order to collect narratives from Unicoi County residents. Brown said that he has learned how to approach people and listen to their stories. While this has pushed him out of his comfort zone, he said it’s “allowed for interactions with people that were truly life-changing.”

As classes graduate and new members join, interested students will follow an application and interview process conducted by the school, Unicoi County Hospital, Ballad Health and current junior board members.

Unicoi County Hospital is also working toward an International Storytelling Center Site of Excellence designation, an honor earned by organizations that incorporate storytelling into their core missions, planning, training programs, programming and community outreach. The designation also certifies that Unicoi County Hospital has created a sustainable storytelling culture, one that can be perpetuated through multiple generations.

According to Carroll, the time capsule will be on display at Unicoi County Hospital and will not be opened again until 2044. Carroll was impressed with the first junior board.

“I didn’t know what to expect going in, but it has really shown me what these young men and women could do,” Carroll said. “I have learned as much from them as they have learned from this project.”

You can follow the junior board’s activity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at #UnicoiJrBoard.