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Individuals and their Successes: How Do Their Stories Fit In?

Historically, WAP success stories have focused on a participant and her or his personal story of success. We have generally accepted that this “puts a face” on the problem and on the solution. However, WAP practitioners need to be very careful about choosing how they use personal stories to illustrate their work.

Research shows that too many readers of personal stories frame them by assuming that personal character flaws caused the difficulties that led to the person’s problems and lack of resources. This assumption is related to the strong individualistic bias in American culture, which values the struggle to “make it on your own” and dismisses programs or government assistance as undesirable or marks of failure to “make it.”

This finding means that, without your frame, the person you write about may either invoke an unconscious stereotype (such as “poor = lazy”) or remind your readers of a personal experience with someone they know, such as their shiftless cousin Jane.

WAP has a powerful story to tell – the Program helps low-income people and workers in a very hands-on, concrete way. To make sure you highlight personal stories that will resonate with the general public, consider characteristics that the public values, such as self-sufficiency and opportunity, as well as helping the elderly, disabled, or children


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