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Time capsule will preserve Unicoi County history for 25 years

David Floyd • May 17, 2019 at 1:05 AM

Twenty-five years from now, Earth will likely be a very different place.

But seventh-grader Faith Bennett hopes Erwin stays about the same.

“I kind of want to keep it a little, tiny community that we always do community stuff, everybody knows everybody, we talk to people at the store and we don’t get out until an hour later because we’ve been talking to somebody we met 20 years ago,” she said.

During a ceremony Thursday afternoon on the lawn of Unicoi County Hospital, Bennett and five other Unicoi County Middle School students put the finishing touches on a time capsule that will sit undisturbed in the lobby of the hospital for the next 25 years.

Bennett and her classmates are part of Unicoi County Hospital’s junior board of directors, an idea that International Storytelling Center President Kiran Singh Sirah brought to the hospital after starting a similar organization at a museum in Scotland.

“The idea behind junior board is for young people to engage in civic community building,” Sirah said. “It’s using storytelling to promote that sense of civic identity, community building and leadership.”

In addition to items that have a personal connection to each student — such as a Bible, a video game controller, a basketball net and a stuffed football — members of the Junior Board also included artifacts that are part of the cultural fabric of the region. The capsule contains pieces of Blue Ridge Pottery, a glass apple from the 40th Anniversary Unicoi County Apple Festival and transcripts from interviews students conducted with community leaders and neighbors.

“It really is a story of the community,” said hospital administrator Eric Carroll.

The junior board, he said, is part of a larger storytelling initiative at Unicoi County Hospital conducted in partnership with the storytelling center. Carroll wants to see Unicoi County Hospital become the first hospital to earn the center’s seal of excellence, an award that certifies that an organization has found a way to use storytelling to enhance the work it does in the community.

“We incorporate storytelling into how we care for our patients,” he said, “so we’ve had staff go through training. And it’s not how to sit down and tell a patient a story. It’s how to use their own personal experiences, as well as the patient’s experiences, to improve how we deliver care.”

In a medical setting, Carroll said storytelling techniques improve how staff members connect with patients, allowing them to gather a more thorough medical history. “(Patients will) give us better history on themselves if we just interact with them on a more personal level,” he said.

The current board — Bennett, Audie Brown, Seth Hopson, Brian Hughes, Norah Ray and Makena Riebe — is the first local junior board assembled by the hospital and the storytelling center. They have been working since January on the capsule, which serves as the group’s capstone project.

“They’ve learned so many different things from interview skills to time management to event planning,” Carroll said. “It’s some things that they would not have had an opportunity to experience without this board.”

Bennett said it’s possible that she’ll still be in Unicoi County when community members open the capsule 25 years from now. “I kind of want to be a nurse,” she said. She hopes to either work at Johnson City Medical Center or Unicoi County Hospital.

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