Being new to PRA and its many projects (and being on the communications team, which requires me to work and gain familiarity with every project), I have spent the last 2 months in a flurry of memorizing acronyms, hunting down folder locations, and managing an inbox filled with large chain emails from across our network. And with deadlines mounting and task lists growing ever larger, it can sometimes be hard to connect deeply with the work done by our project areas and understand the stories and impact behind them. I tend to be a very visual person, and I connect with things more when I can see them (hence why I work in video and visual arts).

All this to say, I am very grateful to have been asked to make a recap video of the SOAR State Team Lead Leadership Academy. It was a great way for me to gain substantial insight into what it is the SOAR TA Center and SOAR providers work to accomplish and the enthusiasm with which they pursue it. Upon reviewing the footage of the Leadership Academy, it is immediately clear that the individuals working in the SOAR program are amazingly ardent about helping people gain access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The energy brought by every speaker and all of the State Team Leads gave the event more of a feeling of a convention or concert with die-hard fans filing in to discuss and listen to all things SOAR.

In addition to this, there are the impactful stories from the beneficiaries of the SOAR program. These individuals have spent their lives working to overcome hardships and obstacles, and with the help of SOAR they have begun to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Hearing their accounts, as well as all of the speakers at the Leadership Academy, helps remind me of the power of story-telling and the importance of individual experiences.

Furthermore, I see the usefulness video can have to be an effective tool to create a deeper understanding of a story or situation. For example, in the footage of the Leadership Academy, I noticed the applause that was roused out of the audience after every story ending with “Congratulations, you are approved!”  I found this to be a fascinating representation of a collective investment that each SOAR practitioner deeply identifies with and a camaraderie that can only come from individuals who are immensely devoted to their work. Seeing this play out on video conveys so much more than I would have otherwise understood.

This is why I am so happy I received the opportunity to make this video for the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center and to have a hand in helping these passionate people spread their stories and increase their impact. It is in this way that I am reminded to seek out the stories that come along with every project area that we work wi