Last year, when the StoryCorps MobileBooth stopped in Fort Collins, Ray Martinez sat in front of one of its microphones with some longtime friends and talked about the phases of his early life: the five years he spent at a Denver-area orphanage, and his subsequent adoption. The recording aired last summer not only on the local public radio station, but also on National Public Radio and the StoryCorps Web site.
What followed "stunned" Martinez.
"I got e-mails and calls from people from New Jersey to Hawaii," he says. "Literally across the United States."
He shares a few lines from one of the e-mails, written by a man in California who says he and his wife heard his story and became inspired to become foster or adoptive parents: "I've listened to the interview over and over on the Internet and I'm choked up each time I hear it ... I'm not sure where this will take us, but I can't shake the image of your mother and father taking you home."
"Isn't that powerful?" asks Martinez, who grew into an adult life that includes serving 24 years as a police officer and three terms as Fort Collins' mayor.
Martinez has shared his experience in hopes that others will become part of the StoryCorps project. The national nonprofit initiative, which has recorded interviews with more than 26,000 ordinary people in all 50 states, is sending its mobile recording studio to the Pikes Peak region for four weeks starting Thursday, Sept. 24.
The MobileBooth will park in front of Penrose Library, where locals can come to be interviewed by friends or family, about any aspect of their lives, with the help of trained facilitators. Recordings of each interview will be given to participants and archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Some of the stories will air on local partner station KRCC-FM and possibly on NPR.
"You know, we already capture the history of famous people, notable people," Martinez says, "but when can you capture the history of everyday people like this?"
Martinez's story, with its poignant detail of would-be parents checking him out "like a library book," was something of a proven winner; he has told it in meeting rooms and classrooms, and has even written a book about his childhood and his search for his birth mother. ("It's called Baby Boy-R, because that's how they made notes about me in the orphanage," he says.) But the StoryCorps archives are full of tales that people had never told outside their families — or, sometimes, even within their families.
"Every time I tell this story, people come up to me and have similar life stories," Martinez says. "They walk up, maybe in tears, telling me about their lives. I always say to them, 'Make sure you share your story; tell people about it.'"
Martinez encourages everyone to think about the tales they may have to tell about themselves and the local community, and to take the plunge by signing up for a StoryCorps interview.
"Everybody's got a different story, and I think hearing them helps us grow a greater fondness and respect for each other," he explains. "Now, when I look at the faces of people, I just kind of sit back and think, 'I wonder what their story is?'"