Staff Spotlight: Hazel Diaz, Manager of the Military Voices Initiative
I am a proud New York City native. I grew up in Bushwick, but currently live in Amish country, Pennsylvania; you could say I’m pretty well rounded. After my service in the United States Marine Corps, I began working in veteran services. I have served the military community in several roles related to policy, education, nonprofit and veteran services organizations for over 12 years. When not working, I enjoy backpacking through state and national parks (I have a few dozen under my belt), and traveling both domestically and internationally. I have visited 48 states and a handful of countries. I also enjoy yoga, running, biking, kayaking, and treating myself to ice cream after my adventures.
What is your role at StoryCorps and how long have you been with the organization?
I am manager of the Military Voices Initiative (MVI) and I’ve been with StoryCorps for five years.
What does your job entail?
I manage the MVI project as a whole and this entails scheduling, partnering with radio stations, and working with the field managers on recording conversations. I also produce the program materials, work with StoryCorps’ legal and production teams, serve as field manager, and meet deliverables for our grant. In terms of partner organizations, I often work with local VSOs (veteran service organizations) and collaborate with local station partners to produce promotion materials, plan and host listening events, and serve as an MVI and StoryCorps ambassador in these communities.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
One of our challenges is trying to appeal to a variety audiences in disparate regions. We work to create materials that resonate with the broadest possible audience, but it can still pose a challenge when you’re trying to reach participants in regions as divergent as Alaska and Washington, D.C.
What are some of the rewards of your job?
One of the biggest rewards for me is being on the road and being part of interviews in real time. When we are on the ground and talking to participants in person, it’s especially meaningful. I also get satisfaction from seeing the radio stations work with our materials and tailor them to their audiences in order to maximize engagement.
What is your favorite story?
My favorite story is “Just Like Yesterday,” which is a love story about two people finding each other in New York and creating a life together, despite a language barrier. As a native New Yorker, I loved hearing how smitten they still are with each other.
As we honor our veterans this Veteran’s Day, November 11, why do you think StoryCorps’ MVI Initiative is important?
Our MVI archive shows that the veterans in our country are not a monolith — they each have different experiences and their stories show us that we have a shared humanity, no matter what our background is.
I think this collection is valuable because it demonstrates how adaptable people are in the face of adversity. Many military members—along with their children and spouses—move often, so their stories are about resiliency in the face of change. While not every service member or family of a service member talks about their military experience, many do, and for those who have left the service and feel isolated—it can be helpful to hear relatable stories of those who have done the same. We encourage all veterans to record their stories with us!
Staff Spotlight: Virginia Millington, Director of Recording & Archive
I’ve worked in libraries, museums, and nonprofit organizations for over fifteen years and have been a New Yorker since 2008. When I’m not at StoryCorps, I’m usually spending time exploring with my son.
What is your position at StoryCorps and how long have you been with the organization?
My role is Director of Recording and Archive and I’ve been at StoryCorps for 12 years.
What does your job entail?
My job is to lead an expert team of archivists and recording technicians, who ensure, on a daily basis, that StoryCorps interviews are recorded using the highest standards while also making them as accessible as possible to a wide variety of audiences, including participants, partners, and more. Our team is also responsible for recording and training dozens of facilitators, looking into new technologies for recording interviews, and collaborating with our digital team to make sure that our work is responsive to the needs of our users, forward-thinking, and consistent with best practices in the field.
How has technology shaped the archive?
The launch of the StoryCorps App in 2015 involved figuring out how to apply our rigorous StoryCorps recording model to a format that would make it possible for anyone with a smartphone or tablet to record a StoryCorps interview. We worked very closely with our digital team on this shift to a more scalable, expansive model that preserved the intent of our approach to recording interviews.
With the app, the scale and scope of our collection expanded, but it was important for us to maintain the archival goals and quality of the recordings. This was something we accomplished through deep collaboration with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and through an iterative process of building the StoryCorps App in a collaborative, open-ended way.
What are some rewards of your job?
StoryCorps employs some of the most passionate, engaged, and thoughtful people, and it’s a privilege to be a part of a rapidly evolving institution that nonetheless values consensus and inclusion. I also feel honored to be able to interact with the thousands of stories within our archive on a daily basis; the scope of the collection reflects generational wisdom, vernacular history, and a series of relational conversations that are moving individually and collectively very powerful.
I’m especially proud of the interviews that have been recorded virtually during the pandemic, as they represent the myriad ways in which StoryCorps adapted its own recording model to meet the needs of the people who sought to record interviews with loved ones during times of isolation and social distancing. You can find a set of these interviews here.
What is your favorite StoryCorps story?
My favorite collection or story is usually related to a theme that’s universal, like Sundays at Rocco’s, which is about a family on New York’s Lower East Side, who are affected in serious and long-reaching ways by the changing landscape of New York City. The story is poignant and reflective, but doesn’t necessarily end in a heartwarming way. It shows the fragility and complexity of the human experience and is a unique New York story that resonates outside of its specific locale.
Why do you think everyone should record a story with StoryCorps?
I can say this from first-hand experience, but our facilitators always show the utmost care, respect, and honor when they are working with two people to record their interview. And the StoryCorps App and StoryCorps Connect, our virtual platforms, expand that experience to be more accessible while still maintaining a framework of care and trust. I think everyone should have the experience of recording a StoryCorps interview in order to have the experience of learning more about a loved one, but also knowing that your interview will be preserved, not only by the recording & archive team at StoryCorps, but by our partners at the Library of Congress.
What are ways you’d suggest to search the Archive?
-Search the Archive by our initiatives, which are collections of interviews that celebrate specific groups of people. You can check out the Griot Collection, the OutLoud Collection, our One Small Step Collection, and more.
-Check out our featured partnerships, which include Hear Me Now, a collaboration with the Providence Institute for Human Caring and Voices of Freedom, a collaboration with the Office on Trafficking in Persons.
-Download “Activities for Exploring the StoryCorps Archive”, a fun, interactive way to learn more about the StoryCorps interview collection.
-Watch a panel presentation on the Military Voices Initiative and the Veterans’ History Project, hosted at the Library of Congress.
Staff Spotlight: Kati Frazier, Associate Director of Public Support at StoryCorps
I was born and raised in North Carolina, but I’ve lived in New York for 10 years. I’ve always been passionate about storytelling: before I came to StoryCorps I spent my whole career working in nonprofit theater. These days, when I’m not hard at work supporting our participants and users, I’m usually puttering in my fire-escape garden, writing a play, seeing an off-off-off-off Broadway show you’ve never heard of, or spending a night in with my wife and cats.
What is your role at StoryCorps?
I’m the Associate Director of Public Support and Solutions which means that—along with a small team—I answer the general email box, support StoryCorps participants, and lead communications with users of our Mobile App and Online Archive.
How long have you been with the organization?
I started at StoryCorps in 2018.
What is a typical day like for you?
Every day, I spend time in ZenDesk [a help desk management tool] reviewing and responding to incoming inquiries from our community and on a given day, I might be meeting with our Digital team about improvements to our Online Archive, working with the Marketing & Communications team on emails to StoryCorps App users, advocating for the user experience, or working with the Recording & Archives team on archival policies that impact participants.
What do you find most fulfilling about your job?
I find it really fulfilling to work with participants; not a lot of StoryCorps staff (beyond our facilitators) interact with our participants on a regular basis. Often, as a remembrance, we hear from individuals who are searching for older interviews recorded by a recently deceased loved one. Helping people reconnect with these precious memories is one of my favorite things about this job.
What is most challenging about your job?
While I love working with the public, it can also be challenging. In this job, we are on the front lines when it comes to hearing about an issue, so there are times when my day has gone sideways because I’m responding to an unexpected message.
What might people not know about StoryCorps?
That public support exists—people don’t always know that we’re here to help them. We also have some great fans. One time, a high school class created a musical based on StoryCorps stories and then showed up at our Chicago StoryBooth [when it was in operation] to sing one of their show’s songs. People have also written songs about StoryCorps and sent them to us. We love receiving those kinds of messages!
Why should every American do an interview?
It democratizes the historical record because—no matter what your story is—all interviews are archived and preserved at StoryCorps’ archive at the Library of Congress. We are always happy to help participants retrieve their interviews. It’s a really beautiful thing that you can do for yourself and for future generations.
What is your favorite story?
The Dr. Tiller story is a good example of how our work can humanize a challenging and complex issue and it made me proud to work at StoryCorps.
Staff Spotlight: Patrick McNameeKing, Manager of Recording Operations at StoryCorps
Patrick McNameeKing has been an audio fanatic since he started playing music and building radios around age seven or eight. He enjoys finding secret climbing spots around the country, playing music with friends, traveling by foot and bicycle, learning new instruments, studying languages, and creating nonfiction audio stories.
What does your job entail at StoryCorps?
I’m the manager of recording operations. There isn’t one way to say what I do, but broadly, I make sure that StoryCorps is equipped to collect photos and audio that are of the highest possible quality. These media assets are archived at the Library of Congress and from a technical perspective, I want to ensure we are able to take the highest-fidelity snapshot of life in America that we can. Some of the ways I do this include: training staff to use our recording equipment, managing the functionality of our five recording venues, and designing recording workflows for one-off projects and installations.
During a given week, what activities might you be engaged in?
I could be building recording kits for the L&E [Learning and Engagement] team, learning about design constraints from acoustical materials fabricators, and then catching a plane to set up an Airstream trailer at a Custom Services engagement.
What drew you to work at StoryCorps?
A few years ago, while juggling a number of different jobs, I was volunteering at a local radio station and also with an advocacy group. I started to bring those two worlds together and saw firsthand, the power of compassionate listening has to remind us of the throughlines across the human experience and how this can lead to a celebration of the things that make us different.
A friend saw the listing for this job online, and forwarded it to me, thinking I’d be a good fit. She was right!
What’s most fulfilling about your job?
Every day is different and while I’m based in Brooklyn, I get to spend a lot of time on the road. I love that I get to travel all over the country.
What’s the biggest challenge of your job?
I find it challenging when things slow down and I don’t have enough puzzles to solve. I once saw an interview with Jack White where he said that on stage, he places the organ one step further away from his main vocal microphone than is comfortable. He said that because of the distance, he has to work harder to get to the instrument in time to play the right notes and that extra effort is what makes the music sound cool. This resonates with how I like to live my life and I feel lucky to have a job where that approach fits nicely.
What have you learned about America since you started this job?
There are so many slices of life and facets to this country. I can be sitting at a diner at 5 am, somewhere in the middle of the country, eavesdropping on conversations and just be completely happy. Meeting new people never gets boring for me and it’s been humbling. You realize how much we all have in common even if we seem very different.
Why should everyone record a StoryCorps conversation?
Recording a conversation with someone is such an intimate way to honor both your individual and shared experiences of moving through the world. When that conversation gets archived, your particular experience becomes a tile in a mosaic that depicts life in America. How cool is that?
What is your favorite StoryCorps story and why?
I got really into BMX biking when I was living in China, so one day I searched “BMX” in our online archive and a story about the oldest female BMX biker, Kittie Weston-Knauer, popped up. It’s my favorite because really, it’s a love story about someone who is pursuing her passion, despite the odds. At the time of the recording, she was in her 70s and still racing!
Q&A With StoryCorps CEO Sandra M. Clark
Since assuming the CEO position at StoryCorps in February, Sandra Clark has been commuting from her home in Philadelphia to StoryCorps’ Brooklyn headquarters each week. We sat down with her to hear more about how she’s settling into her new role and the appliance that is bringing new-found joy to her favorite hobby.
What attracted you to apply for this position?
Throughout my whole career, I’ve always focused on spaces where certain voices aren’t seen or heard, and elevating and amplifying those voices. There are people in our organizations and our communities who have a lot of knowledge and wisdom, but often they aren’t seen or asked what they think. In journalism especially–which is my background—many of those voices aren’t always represented.
That’s why StoryCorps means so much to me. It’s dedicated to the idea that everyone’s story matters and the organization has a solid track record of lifting up the stories of people who aren’t typically represented in most media. What I love is that people from all backgrounds come to us to share their stories—we offer a rare space to absorb humanity. We all experience our families, lives, work, and communities differently. StoryCorps is of, by and for the people and since two of my passions are community and connection, I am personally interested and professionally committed to helping StoryCorps expand its profile and become a force for personal and community transformation.
What have you learned about StoryCorps since starting as CEO a few months ago?
Since coming to StoryCorps two months ago, I have spoken to almost everyone on staff one-on-one.
Through these conversations, I’m learning that StoryCorps staff are incredibly passionate about connecting people through the power of listening and they are deeply invested in StoryCorps’ mission. As CEO, this is a wonderful foundation. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know everyone a little personally and learning about what each person does to make StoryCorps the special organization it is.
As you start to settle into this new position, what are your priorities and what do you hope to accomplish?
StoryCorps’ time is now and I look forward to working with staff to secure an enduring future for this extraordinary organization, dedicated to capturing the voices of everyday people. One of my goals is to have StoryCorps become a household experience more broadly, especially in diverse communities. I can’t say enough about how moving and transformative it is to hear the stories of everyday people. So far, about 600,000 people across the country have recorded their stories with us. I also want to create more educational opportunities in primary and secondary schools to help foster compassion, justice, and the ability to really listen, in the next generation.
I’m also excited to continue raising the visibility of our One Small Step initiative, which combats the current culture of toxic polarization, one conversation at a time and I hope more Americans recognize that they can be part of the solution simply by participating.
As we approach our 20th anniversary in 2023, it’s also important for StoryCorps to grow revenue streams like our StoryCorps for Hire program and focus on expanding our community of individual supporters. We also need to do a better job telling our own story and I look forward to doing this work as part of an upcoming brand refresh project. Finally, it’s important for me to build on our internal culture of “people first” and ensure that every employee feels seen, heard, and valued.
Now that you’re commuting to Brooklyn every week, what’s your favorite neighborhood spot to grab a bite?
I don’t have a favorite spot yet. I love discovery so I’ve been walking through lots of neighborhoods and exploring this wonderful international food scene.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Hopefully the world is opening up a bit so I’m looking forward to live theater and live music. Experiencing the creativity of other people is a real joy. And I love cooking, something I got from my dad, who was from Louisiana. I admit to having just discovered the air fryer, which delivers every time. My dad would not approve.