Community Conversations: New Jersey’s COVID-19 Storytelling Project

Help Us Gather New Jersey’s COVID-19 Community Stories!

COVID-19 has touched every New Jersey community. From the immediate threat of contracting, spreading, and weathering the virus, through the trauma of social isolation and intersections with poverty, racism and all forms of health and environmental injustice, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare our deepest vulnerabilities.

Community Conversations: New Jersey’s COVID-19 Storytelling Project is a statewide collective ethnography to gather and transform the personal accounts of New Jersey residents, especially those who have faced increased marginalization or greater risk as a result of the pandemic, into the building blocks of a more resilient, compassionate and Healthy New Jersey.

As a collaboration between the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance, the New Jersey Department of Health and Healthy NJ 2030, Community Conversations aims to portray COVID’s mostly painful and sometimes hopeful cadences by integrating interviews, focus groups, social media dialogues, creative artworks, journaling, participatory observation, or document analysis.

This project will memorialize the voices of New Jersey residents during a critical period of unprecedented change in our state’s history.

With generous support from the Russell Berrie Foundation, all stories collected will be analyzed by the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs to identify themes and key disparities that will inform actionable recommendations for improving public health in Healthy NJ's 2030 State Health Improvement Plan. 

Who Can Share Stories

We’re asking New Jersey residents, essential workers, public servants and volunteers to tell us how they’ve struggled, how they’ve survived, and how they believe we should – can – improve the state's healing process.

While everyone has experienced and been deeply affected by the pandemic in our state and has a valuable story to tell, the heart of this project is to elevate the voices of community members who have been historically underrepresented and marginalized, and have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. These are the voices largely left out of the pandemic response and narrative, and are the voices we must hear from if we are to build a just and equitable plan to truly meet all New Jersey residents’ health needs.

All community members, with a focus on the above, including organization staff, volunteers, and public servants (broadly defined), are invited to participate in our Community Conversations platform as both interviewers and interviewees. There are a few different ways to participate in story-gathering and storytelling:


Organizations may facilitate interviews, focus groups, and social media dialogues, or collect other storytelling submissions from community members. We encourage organizations to identify 5 to 10 members from the community they serve and either gather stories and submit them online as digital files or connect participants with the NJ YMCA State Alliance to be interviewed. For criteria, guiding questions, and more information, read our organization information sheet here.

Click the button below if you are an organizational facilitator looking to submit interviews or stories on behalf of community members:

Organizations: Submit Here

New Jersey Residents

New Jersey Residents may interview other members of their communities or share their own story as a creative submission or original research, such as a journal, participant observation, or document analysis. Read our story-gathering guide here.

New Jersey residents looking to facilitate story gathering or submit their own story, click the button below:

NJ Residents: Gather or Share Stories

New Jersey Residents may share their stories by requesting an interview directly with the NJ YMCA State Alliance. For more information on what to expect, click here.

New Jersey residents interested in being interviewed by the NJ YMCA State Alliance, click the button below:

NJ Residents: Request Interview

How To Share Stories?

To learn more about the variety of ways individuals can participate in the COVID-19 Storytelling Project, click on each option below:

Interviews Community Conversations interviews are informal, brief conversations with the objective of learning about how people think about, react to, and have experienced COVID-19. Interviewees are encouraged to speak freely about how the pandemic has impacted their life, as interviewers or facilitators ask guiding questions and take a video or audio recording. Interviews can be one-on-one or in a small group, and can be done in-person following state safety requirements and CDC social distancing guidelines, over the phone, or through video conferencing platforms like Zoom.
Virtual Focus GroupCommunity For focus groups in Community Conversations, the objective is to gather a small group of no more than 10 people with similar demographic backgrounds to discuss experiencing COVID-19 in New Jersey. These discussions may be more time-consuming and structured than an informal interview and should be guided by a trained facilitator using our guiding questions. Focus groups for Community Conversations should be conducted virtually, over platforms like Zoom or through conference calls.
Social Media EventThrough social media events, organizations may host a live dialogue with employees, members, or clients. Organizations may choose to host social media events on platforms such as Facebook Live, Twitter Chats, or more. The objective is to provide a space for any number of community members to freely discuss their experiences navigating the pandemic. Share the event using the hashtag #NJCOVIDConvos.
Creative SubmissionsCreative submissions allow residents to share their stories through art created during or after March 2020, such as written poetry, spoken word, creative non-fiction essays, photography, painting, graphic art, sketches, short films, or musical compositions. Creative submissions should be accompanied by a short description that explains how the artwork explores navigating the pandemic.
JournalingJournaling in Community Conversations encourages NJ residents that are members of research-focused organizations, such as an institution of higher learning, to detail their daily personal experiences related to navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal writing should be reflective, with regular entries that include personal experiences such as feelings, dialogues, events, activities, memories.
Participant ObservationParticipant observation allows NJ residents that are members of research-focused organizations to objectively observe a population to glean insight about their behavior, relationships, and interactions. Observers should have a knowledge of the site and population they will be observing, avoid disrupting the natural, normal activities of the study population, and be transparent about your observation activities to anyone who asks.
Document AnalysisNJ residents who are members of a research-focused organization may participate through document analysis by reviewing and evaluating documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey. Sources can be picked from any number of printed or electronic materials, such as public records (reports, policy statements, strategic plans), personal documents (e-mails, social media posts, journals, newspapers), and/or physical evidence (flyers, posters, training materials).

All stories will be archived by the NJ YMCA State Alliance in a way that honors the diverse themes and impacts we are still uncovering, and will be accessible to the public for future generations to come.

Of the stories collected, 20 participants will be selected to participate in a 40-minute interview, facilitated and recorded by StoryCorps. Three to five of those in-depth interviews will be converted into audio segments and an animated short, which will be highlighted and showcased at the annual Culture of Health Conference. In addition, these 20 interviews will be archived at the National Library of Congress.

Important Information on Consent

To ensure that the participant sharing their story – or yourself if you are sharing your own story – has provided appropriate consent to share their narrative, photo, audio, or video with the NJ YMCA State Alliance, and agrees that the NJ YMCA State Alliance may broadly share, adapt, and redistribute all storytelling submissions in connection with this project, all participants must provide along with their submissions a signed consent form (linked below), provided as a consenting adult participant or as a parent/legal guardian of a minor participant.

To substitute signed consent, the facilitator may instead obtain verbal consent, by recording themselves reading the consent form and the participant or parent/legal guardian responding “yes” to each statement before the participant shares their story. Consent forms or recorded verbal consent may be uploaded within all online submission forms.

We also ask that any participant submitting an original creative work also complete the licensing agreement included in the consent form. The licensing agreement does not need to be filled out for any storytelling submission type other than a creative work.

Consent Form for Adults Consent Form for Minors


Compensation Information for Participants

Individual participants - those who share their COVID-19 story in any of the methods provided - are eligible to receive one $25 VISA gift card through the NJ YMCA State Alliance if all submission criteria are met. Participants may receive compensation for one storytelling submission only. We are unfortunately unable to compensate interviewers or story-gathering facilitators at this time.

For organizations that are interested in gathering a planned number of stories and would like to request gift cards in advance to compensate participants, please fill out this form.

Have questions or need more information? Read our FAQs or email