Scholarships for Real Life: Emily Wray and The Voices of Petersburg


In 2013 the WDS community started a foundation, making an initial investment of $100,000 and pledging to support “Scholarships for Real Life,” a program to enable people to pursue a dream of their own while also addressing a problem that affects others. Here’s one of our 2015 grantees.

Meet Emily Wray. Emily is a Course Director at Full Sail University, but once a year she travels to Petersburg, Alaska—a small island community—to support clients of Petersburg Mental Health Services (PMHS) as they tell their own stories.

The Voices of Petersburg is a three-day digital storytelling workshop where participants choose an experience they want to share and, with the guidance of mental health counselors, write a script for a digital story to give voice to their struggles and triumphs.

“There is great power in being truly seen and heard, if even for five minutes.”

Check out this short video of previous story tellers. 

“In the production process they work with several media specialists to sort through family photos and myriad digital images to help convey their story visually. They record their voice as narration and choose accompanying music to help express the emotional current of the piece.

The process of writing, choosing supportive media assets, and bringing the story to the screen provides a platform for healing unique to the mental health therapies. The production process allows a workable distance from the subject while still engaging in what is often painful territory.”


“The workshop culminates with a celebratory screening of the digital stories for family and friends. Participants express a sense of relief and catharsis after sharing their digital story. PMHS Counselors continue to utilize the stories during therapy, well beyond the close of the workshop. This healing power of digital storytelling gently ushers participants’ painful dark corners toward the bright light of release.”


Emily and The Voice of Petersburg team

With the help of the WDS Foundation, Emily and her team will build a mobile curriculum that can travel outside Petersburg and assist individuals in mental health facilities around the U.S.

We’ll be announcing one other grantee next week—and then we’ll prepare to take applications for 2016 grants!


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