The Hearth


On a normal Thursday night in October Mark Yaconelli stepped up to the microphone, the lights dimmed and stories began to flow. Six brave people stepped up and told a story of how change had affected their life.

On Valentine’s Day in 2010 The Hearth made its first appearance in Ashland’s diverse performance community. Now nearing the end of its fifth year, the storytelling event founded by public speaker Mark Yaconelli is based on a simple slogan, “Real stories by regular folks.”

This particular night at Temple Emek Shalom the theme was change. The idea was simple, six people told stories that lasted about ten minutes each. The results were spectacular. From experiences of near death to finding their calling, each storyteller gave their story.

After an opening song by the Merryweathers, a Lewis and Clark themed band, the stories began. First up was Catherine Foster. Now the senior editor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Foster told the story of when she was living in Boston and decided to start a family. As she went on the journey of becoming a mother through adoption, she found her motherly instincts with a spunky girl from Russia who is now a senior at Ashland High School.

Glen Hill came up next. An asthma attack left Hill’s blood oxygen percentage at a fatal level. While on the table in the ER he had an out of body experience and felt “the most unconditional love you can ever know.” He regained consciousness and had the self realization that “life doesn’t end after death.”

As the last teller of the first act Marni Coopman told her story of how she felt empowered by the bland scientific reports that hit her desk while working for the forest service in Colorado. Now she leads workshops on climate change throughout Oregon.

Ashland High School made its mark on the show when Carly Joss and Garrett Baxter opened up the second act with the song In Repair by John Mayer. Joss sang and Baxter played the piano.

After the song, Amy Miller, an editor at OSF, performed a poem she wrote about her brother. Someone who didn’t want to be who he was, a privileged white boy from Southern California.

Carolyn Anderson, a local lawyer, did something very few people do. Anderson, her partner and their two kids left their comfortable home and her secure job at a law firm in the San Francisco financial district. After landing in Yreka, California, the family struggled through the hardships of a home with no air conditioning or heating and a rattlesnake nest under the front porch. She now lives in Ashland and works as a labor lawyer.

The fifth teller of the night, David Young, told the story of how he ended up alone in a cabin in Alaska on his 21 birthday. Young dropped out of Berkeley and went on a journey to become a man. According to his story, living alone in a cabin in Alaska will do that.

The night ended with Hannah Sohl, now the head of Rogue Climate, who told her journey of how she got to that position. She realized how serious climate change was watching the banks of a river in Bangladesh slide into the already brown water. At any moment the house she stayed in could slide into the river. Her goal is now to do her part to stop climate change.

The night ended with Yaconelli giving a monologue that incorporated all the stories of the night.

The next Hearth event is December 11 and will be The Hearth Holiday Fundraiser.