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Strengthening Families Through Storytelling: Judy Helm Wright
Montana Senior News, February/March 2014
She is called Auntie Artichoke and for good reason. In native cultures, Aunties have long been known for their wisdom and ability to help others. Without doubt, Missoula’s Judy Helm Wright qualifies on both counts. The Auntie half of her moniker was bestowed by some native women whom she met and befriended 40 years ago when her husband, Dwain, was stationed on Oahu with the U.S. Air Force and she taught at her church and local PTA.

“They would tell me, ‘Auntie, we come for your stories.’ They knew they would not be judged,” recalls Judy, who felt both honored and blessed by the title given her.

The self-appointed artichoke half of the moniker came a year later when Dwain was relocated to California. Judy discovered that the people who lived in the house they moved their young family into had planted artichokes in the garden. Unfortunately for the prior occupants, they never feasted on any homegrown artichokes because they were transferred before the vegetables matured. The Wrights, however, happily reaped the harvest these unknown individuals had bequeathed them. This experience became a metaphor for Judy who has used it countless times to energize others to lead a more fulfilling life.

“As you expose the artichoke and people to warmth, caring, and time, gradually the leaves begin to open and expose the real treasure—the heart,” she explains. “In addition, many times our actions are felt by people we will never meet, but we plant the seeds of kindness anyway.”

For Judy, those seeds of kindness so important to strengthening families require the fertile ground of her “3 R’s” to grow to full potential. That’s not the 3 R’s of reading, writing, and arithmetic we mastered in grade school. Judy’s 3 R’s stand for respect, resilience, and responsibility. These are the character-building foundation blocks upon which she has framed her 25-year-old business as a parent educator, family coach, personal historian, and book author.

“Respect, resilience, and responsibility are learned skills. There are consequences if we don’t learn them. Like all life skills such as riding a bike or paddling a kayak, they can be taught. To feel successful, we have to respect ourselves and each other. We have a right to our feelings and so do others. We also need to be able to deal with adversity rather than be overwhelmed by it,” says Judy. “Encouragers help you live your dream. Discouragers take away the courage to make a mistake. As an encourager, I teach people how to bounce back as well as to take responsibility for their actions.”

Judy’s sense of resiliency and responsibility includes the willingness to seek common-sense solutions to problems along with a readiness to compromise, forgive, and forget. In the 40 workshops she teaches, as well as in the 23 books she has authored, she relies on the time-honored tool of storytelling to illustrate her points.

Not surprisingly, these are the same kinds of stories that drew those women in Hawaii to her decades ago. The accounts she relates to adults and youngsters are neither parables nor fictions. All are based on real-life examples either from her own experience or from the experiences of those who have come to her for assistance. Many of the themes she communicates evolved while raising her six offspring. At the same time, she and Dwain also provided a welcome refuge to neighborhood kids who needed to sleep under a different roof for a while.

“There’s not a whole bunch I haven’t seen. I’m not easily shocked. My sharing has enabled the door to open for others to share their stories. People want to hear how others have handled their problems and responsibilities, how they developed resilience and how their character was formed,” says Judy. “I think it’s important to glean wisdom not information from these stories. You can Google for information but you need to know stories of sadness and success from the heart that indicate what was learned,” notes Judy. “These teach us we are all connected and have all experienced loss.”

As a founding member of Montana Story-Keepers, a non-profit dedicated to preserving oral and written histories, Judy has also used her talents as an attentive listener and life coach to enable people in nursing homes and hospice care to write their memoirs. Although this is volunteer work, for Judy it is as satisfying as giving a paid keynote speech on family, parenting, and relationship issues or conducting a workshop.

“Preserving life narratives provides a gift for surviving generations at life’s end. It’s priceless as it becomes a permanent memento of the family's heritage. It also opens the door for laughter and healthy grieving. Storytellers begin to recognize that his or her life has been worthwhile and contributed to the world in some small way,” states Judy, who has known since childhood that her calling would be to help families around the world.

“I have learned a thing or two along life’s journey. Now is the time for me to share that wisdom and experience to assist others as they travel through life. Everyone needs an Auntie, a wise woman who loves unconditionally, to be on their support team.”
 
Contact Judy at 406-549-9813 or visit www.artichokepress.com or www.judyhwright.com for more information.