From the time she was quite small, Victoria Woelders (O’Connor, ’00) was encouraged to be creative. Some of her earliest memories are of her and her twin sister cuddled in bed while their mother told them stories that she created for them on the spot. These were wonderful stories of magical, far off places and left a lasting impression.
Sadly, none of these stories were ever recorded and were lost to time. As Woelders grew older, she decided that if she ever did something similar, she would try to record them for her own kids. Little did she know that this was the beginning of what would one day become her very own empathy-focused podcast.
THE SEEDS OF A NEW WORLD
“I’ve always really been intrigued by getting involved in different platforms and software,” says Woelders. “I’ve really enjoyed technology and found that it’s been a place for me to explore my creative side.”
After Woelders completed her Masters with a specialization in technology, she started her own website, mykidslocker.com. At first, this was a place where she could connect with various app companies around the world and showcase them through a blog post or on her Youtube channel. Over time, it transitioned to include other elements and to be a place for her to experiment with her writing.
She did all this as a side project while teaching elementary. Over the last 18 years, Woelders has had a lot of experience teaching internationally, at private schools, and in the Burnaby and Langley School districts. But it wasn’t until about 5 years ago when she transitioned to a new job as a Grade 4 Teacher at Dorothy Peacock Elementary school that storytelling took on a greater role in her life.
“Around the same time, my dad passed away,” says Woelders. “It was kind of a challenging time in my life—transitioning to a different school, grieving for my dad. But then I heard a TED talk about the importance of storytelling and how important it can be in unpacking emotions.”
So, just like her mom, Woelders decided she would try telling her kids bedtime stories. But where to begin? After giving it some thought, she focused her creative energy on building a fantasy world based on a vivid dream she had when she first dedicated her life to Christ as a teenager at camp. One of the strongest visuals in that dream was a large oak tree with an eagle on top.
“That image, that dream, became part of my storytelling when I was going through stuff with my dad passing away,” says Woelders, “so I created this imaginary world called the Oak and Eagle Kingdom.”
In the Oak and Eagle Kingdom there are many lands and magical creatures. Woelders says she wanted to use these things to try and teach her kids to learn about different perspectives, growing empathy, and developing compassion for others.
A couple of times a week for the last five years, Woelders has been recording herself telling her children stories in this world. Much to her delight, her children loved the stories and eagerly awaited more adventures. In March, 2019, Woelders decided to take these older recordings, rework them somewhat, and re-record them to upload as podcast episodes. She did this in order to share them with broader audiences, like her students. To go with the theme of her objective, she calls this podcast Empathy Tales.
“This is my way to share about unconditional love and forgiveness through storytelling,” says Woelders. “I want to tell stories to teach about the importance of seeing how other people see.”
Woelders doesn’t have a degree English and never studied creative writing, but she is a teacher, and so considers herself to be an educational storyteller.
“Being able to use my life experiences to communicate to my children and students the value of love, empathy, and compassion is something that we need more of in this world,” says Woelders. “There’s lots of negative narratives out there. If I can take ownership of positive messages, I can make the world a better place for at least a few people.”
CHANGING THE WAY WE SEE OTHERS
Woelders says the experience of sharing these stories through podcasting has been incredibly rewarding and she has already been able to see some positive results in the lives of her students as well as her in children.
“For my own children, it’s changed the way they’ve thought about people,” says Woelders.
The Oak and Eagle Kingdom is a big place, and Woelders is excited to continue sharing stories from this magical world with her audiences. She hopes that by her efforts, more people will grow in their ability to understand and love others, and that there might one day be more stories that encourage empathy in the world.
“This is one thing I can do with the gifts God has given me,” Woelders says.
To learn more about Woelders or her podcast, Empathy Tales, visit her website: https://mykidslocker.com/