Adriana Trigiani and Nancy Bolmeier Fisher Want to Give Every Kid a Writing Journal – Linda Woodward (E&H ’75) is Helping to Get That Accomplished

by Monica Hoel
Every story matters.

That’s why The Origin Project (TOP) seeks to give young people the encouragement to write their own stories. But it all begins by getting students to understanding where they are from; so they are assigned the task of interviewing family members, identifying a family artifact of interest, and researching their home communities. Nancy Bolmeier Fisher and Adriana Trigiani founded TOP with the tagline, “When you connect to the stories of your past, you’re able to build your dreams for the future.”

Nancy and Adriana met decades ago while working in jobs in high finance. The two formed a strong friendship that lasted through all of life’s changes. Nancy eventually wanted to move into something “kinder and gentler than Wall Street” to become an energetic advocate for education, and even helped start a school for young people with special learning challenges. Adriana became a well-known writer, creating scripts for The Cosby Show, and becoming a bestselling author and film-maker. Through it all, they have remained close, and continually discuss dreams of how to make the world better – particularly for children, and most especially for kids from small or isolated communities. Nancy grew up in a little city in Wyoming (Powell) and Adriana hails from a little town in Virginia (Big Stone Gap), so they knew the challenges of growing up in remote areas.

The idea for TOP was simple: give students a journal and a pen and ask them to write their stories. Nancy says that it was important to Adriana for kids to understand that their stories were just as important as anything she was writing and having published. Every participant in TOP gets a journal to use for collecting their ideas, stories, thoughts, and questions.

Linda Woodward, far left, Adriana Trigiani, and Nancy Bolmeier Fisher is on the far right. Posing... Linda Woodward, far left, Adriana Trigiani, and Nancy Bolmeier Fisher is on the far right. Posing with other TOP volunteers at a book unveling.Teachers use the writing exercise to build lessons on everything from sentence structure to grammar, but the overarching goal is never lost: learn about your family, tell us your own personal story. At the end of the project, an anthology of everyone’s written work is printed and bound into a book. Nancy says this printed volume is very important to the mission of the project: “Each of those students is now a published author.”

Every spring there is a big event to “unveil” the newest anthology, and Adriana uses her connections to bring in big-name authors to speak to the students about their own writing processes. Margot Lee Shetterly, David Baldacci, Barbara Kingsolver, and Jocelyn Nicole Johnson are just a few of the authors who have spoken at TOP events – in addition, of course, to Adriana Trigiani who attends events in person and addresses classrooms by Zoom with great regularity. Their 2022 event, held at the Library of Virginia in Richmond, also featured Sen. Tim Kaine who reminded the students, “Your story is just as important as anyone else’s.”

With Adrianna in New York and Nancy in California, they needed someone in Virginia to really make the program work. Enter Linda Neff Woodward, E&H ’75.

Linda spent her career teaching in Lee County, and she knew the education system, teachers, and the kids. She has been serving the organization for 9 of TOP’s 10 years. Nancy says simply, “There would be no Origin Project without Linda.”

TOP began with 40 students in Big Stone Gap, and they currently engage nearly 2700 students. Most participants are in Southwest Virginia, with students in Manassas and Hampton and Bristol, Tennessee, also participating.

The feedback heard by Linda, Nancy, and Adriana is all the encouragement they need to keep the program going. Linda says teachers tell her that TOP is “life changing” for their participating students, parents, and teachers. She shared this from a TOP participating teacher: “Marginalized students who may have felt what they had to say doesn’t matter, all of a sudden have an activity that values what they have to say. Many of our TOP students have moved on to be leaders in their universities, and have come back to mentor younger students at their former school.”

They hope to grow the program, but, as with most great ideas, funding is an ongoing challenge. However, don’t expect TOP leaders to quit finding a way: because these are women who are connected to their own stories – and they are building big dreams for the future.

Enjoy an insightful and fun conversation with Nancy and Linda on the Duck Pond Wall podcast.

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  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/2043-betty-sexton-has-opened-a-barbecue-restaurant-in"><picture class="lw_image"><source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1369,1364/10356_betty_sexton.rev.1633520591.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1369,1364/10356_betty_sexton.rev.1633520591.webp 3x" data-origin="responsive"/><source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1369,1364/10356_betty_sexton.rev.1633520591.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1369,1364/10356_betty_sexton.rev.1633520591.jpg 3x" data-origin="responsive"/><img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1369,1364/10356_betty_sexton.rev.1633520591.jpg" alt=" Betty Sexton Emory & Henry Class of 1987 " width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1369,1364/10356_betty_sexton.rev.1633520591.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1369,1364/10356_betty_sexton.rev.1633520591.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1369" data-max-h="1364" loading="lazy" data-optimized="true"/></picture></a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/2043-betty-sexton-has-opened-a-barbecue-restaurant-in">Betty Sexton Has Opened a Barbecue Restaurant in Richmond</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Betty Sexton is ready to Smohk the competition.</span> <a href="/live/news/2043-betty-sexton-has-opened-a-barbecue-restaurant-in" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1535-say-adios-to-your-old-spanish-textbook-chris"><picture class="lw_image"><source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,52,360,412/9022_chris.rev.1606245017.webp 1x" data-origin="responsive"/><source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,52,360,412/9022_chris.rev.1606245017.jpg 1x" data-origin="responsive"/><img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,52,360,412/9022_chris.rev.1606245017.jpg" alt="Chris Anama-Green, Emory & Henry Class of 2008" width="345" height="225" data-max-w="360" data-max-h="360" loading="lazy" data-optimized="true"/></picture></a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1535-say-adios-to-your-old-spanish-textbook-chris">Say Adios to Your Old Spanish Textbook: Chris Anama-Green Has Written a Brand New One</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"><p> Don’t like the textbook you’re using in class? Write your own!</p><p> That’s what Dr. Chris Anama-Green did.</p><a href="/live/news/1535-say-adios-to-your-old-spanish-textbook-chris" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>