Geraldine Buckley is a minister, storyteller, writer, events director, and poetry slam champion. In 1999, Buckley traveled to South Africa to teach slam – a type of performance art in which poets recite original works. Through her workshops, her students learned to share their pain through an artistic voice. “The power of creativity should not be underestimated,” says Buckley. “When people speak creatively about their emotions, others connect to their story. Unbelievable bonds are formed.”
While in South Africa, Buckley also traveled to a school to share her art. In the midst of crowded conditions and limited resources, she was impressed by the shining spirit of the children. “After the poetry, the students sang for me,” she notes. “It was a profound experience that confirmed the power of creativity at work.” When Buckley left the country a short time later, she discovered that the creative forces she had encountered during her visit would help to shape her future goals and, ultimately, influence her decision to become a chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland.
In 2011, more than ten years after her South African journey, Buckley found her voice reaching out to the people of South Africa once again. Through a collaborative effort with origins that tell their own unique story, Buckley would be sharing her creative talents at a storytelling benefit aimed at raising funds for Ivory Park.
Buckley had recently stepped down from her position as prison chaplain and had crafted a one-woman storytelling show based on her experiences. Through performance networks, she met Keep It! founder and fellow storyteller Bob Tryanski. Buckley and Tryanski found that their storytelling styles were complimentary and joined forces to present a house concert for friends, family, and storytelling enthusiasts.
A short time later, Tryanski joined John and Joyce Johnson and Carolyn and Jerry Ward in Ivory Park. The Johnsons and the Wards – members of the First Presbyterian Church in Greeneville, TN – had traveled to Ivory Park to view the impact of the church’s many fundraising efforts and to assess additional needs in the community. It was on the way home from this trip that the idea for the benefit concert took root.
“What was amazing to me about the storytelling benefit was the way it all came together. The stars really aligned to create this opportunity – along with a little nudge of divine intervention,” says Tryanski. “The idea was hatched in the back of the car by the Johnsons on our way back from their visit to Ivory Park. Geraldine and I had just come off a terrific experience performing together at a house concert in Philadelphia, so when she offered to do anything she could to help with the Ivory Park project, I thought we would be idiots to let her escape without taking her up on her extremely generous offer.”
Tryanski shared the idea for the benefit concert with Buckley who was eager to assist with a project that felt personal. “My prior experience in South Africa gave me a glimpse into what could be accomplished when children are given the right resources,” notes Buckley. “The Keep It! Campaign is opening a whole new world for these young people. And, it is empowering for students here in the United States. When they look beyond themselves and listen to someone else’s story, wonderful things can happen.”
In October of 2011, Buckley and Tryanski’s benefit storytelling concert – hosted by the Johnsons – resulted in the largest single fundraising event to date for the Keep It! Campaign by bringing in more than $3,000. “Geraldine mesmerized the folks from Greeneville,” notes Tryanski. “It was a real joy to have the chance to work with her again. And they key to it all was collaboration.”
The Keep It! Campaign is proud to honor Geraldine Buckley, a campaign champion who Keeps It! Going through the power of creativity and collaboration.