Sharing stories: Grand Manan newcomer helps high school girls with struggles

A newcomer to Grand Manan has begun collecting stories of struggle and hardship in hopes of one day compiling a book to help youth, both on and off the island.

Samantha Wilson wants to use these stories to break feelings of isolation and loneliness on Grand Manan and across the province.

"There's not a lot of social workers on the island," she said. "That's definitely a need."

A recent social work graduate from St. Thomas University, Wilson put out a social media post telling people she was gathering the stories about the struggles of young people from the perspective of those who have overcome trauma.

Be YOU-nique

She runs a program with high school girls on Grand Manan called Be YOU-nique and wanted to compile a book of familiar, but real, stories to give the girls.

Each month there's a new themed night for the program. The upcoming themed night is health and Wilson was gathering stories of people who might come talk to the group.

"It can include what you struggled with or a family member, how you felt or how you feel, any advice you have for the girls — there are no limits," Wilson wrote in the post. "If you're currently struggling with a mental illness or some other health struggles — anything that relates to this topic."

It also doesn't matter how people want to send it in. The stories can be anonymous.

"You can write it in story form, poem, etc," she wrote. "It is really an opportunity to get creative."

She said she felt overwhelmed by the number of stories rolling in and figured there's enough for a larger project and hopes it's a resource for anyone who needs it.

She said the short-term goal is to collect the stories for the girls, but when the program finishes in April she plans on publishing a book that will be for all ages.

It's important to open the project up to all forms of health issues people may suffer from, she said.

"Let's say you have depression and you want to send me your story, or you want to write a poem about it," she said. "But you're also dealing with cancer … lost a child, had an abortion, whatever it is, I want people to feel comfortable about writing about more than one thing."

Open, responsive

For Wilson, Grand Manan is an ideal place to start something like this.

Moving to the island with her boyfriend only in January, directly after graduation, she would tell people her educational background and people would open up about their stories of hardship and loss.

She said people are open and responsive on the island.

"You can feel it in Grand Manan when something happens," she said. "The whole community comes together."

"There has been some tragedy there in the past," she said. "I wasn't there for them so I can't speak a lot for them, but I've noticed how much people want to talk."

After losing her mother when she was 13, Wilson always knew she wanted to enter a helping profession.

But she's also not one to follow an orthodox career path and prefers working on creative programs.

Two-way street

She hopes the compilation of stories helps everyone involved. Most people genuinely want to help others, she said, but don't always know how.

"It's also a creative way to express yourself."

And, of course, it's designed to help the girls in her program.

"[It] makes them feel like, 'Oh, it's normal, people go through these things and I'm not alone."

She encourages people to reach out to her in any way they're comfortable with, whether email, social media or by mail.

"It's also not just about sharing stories. It's about, 'What did I do to overcome this?'"