My memory calls and it's asking for you (song)

My memory calls And it's asking for you Wondering if you're around today.

Sometimes, we hold on to memories. Other times, we have to let them go.

Jamming with Sam and Chris. (Scott Douglas)

Check out my song, My Memory Calls, when you have a chance. A big thanks to Samantha Chan for accompanying me and to Scott Douglas for filming us at Olympic Village in Vancouver.

My memory calls But there's no reply Maybe I'll call you another time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZjFxIaHAK4

To be or not to be a minority - that is the question (poem)

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question A question I have been revisiting and trying to comprehend From the outskirts, being a minority doesn’t seem like the ideal position Being different, perhaps a dissident, maybe exotic And I’m all too familiar with these words and trends Having used them, even in my favour. But as I have come to understand and accept my story This minority status has become a fallacy A malicious status imposed on me The dominant norms and ideologies that have bruised and broken and beaten me Boxing me in to this tiny crevice of being a minority.

Have you ever felt different, or that you didn't quite fit or belong?

Most of us have felt that way at one point or another in our lives. It's not an easy place to be, especially when we desire love, connection, acceptance and belonging.

Puzzle

I've felt different for most of my life and my puzzle pieces never seemed to line up. There was always a part of me that didn't quite fit the community I wanted to belong to. It has been really challenging negotiating the various pieces of my identity and figuring out how I belonged (or didn't).

In some groups, I held back certain aspects of my identity and part of me was missing. In other spaces, I hid different pieces and didn't feel whole. There was silence, insecurity and often shame.

Gay AND Christian? Chinese AND Jamaican? Say what?!?

Many of us never feel like we're enough.

Never forget these powerful words. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Can I tell you how awesome you are? It's true! Many of us navigate these in-between spaces and yet, we often marginalize others who are different. We really need to listen and hear each other's stories, and not be afraid to bring our whole selves.

I'm still figuring out what it looks like to bring all the pieces of Jenna to the table. It's tough and will be a lifelong journey, but I know it'll be worth it. When you have a chance, check out my poem, Minority, and I hope you can connect.

Have you ever felt like you didn't belong? How have you negotiated the various pieces of your identity?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFejUFU8sDo

Creating spaces and showing up: my last Words to Live By show

I can't believe it has been two years since I accidentally started Words to Live By! It was meant to be a five-part series over the summer, but there was a demand to continue a monthly show. Several people said this kind of series was missing from Ottawa's spoken word scene and there hadn't been a show like this since the Oneness Poetry Showcase.

A beautiful and intimate atmosphere. (Rebecca Jones)

I really wanted to create a space to encourage first-time performers, up-and-coming poets and women. We've had many people courageously share their poetry for the first time, while others have had their first featured performance.

Artemysia Fragiskatos first poetry feature. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Benoit Christie performing during the open mic. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

It has been beautiful to see people step out of their comfort zone, and recognize the power of their voices and stories.

“Open mic with the bestest people in the world. Thank you for providing space for all those wonderful poets and incredible human beings. Learning to own my voice and be my kind of beautiful :) Jenna, thank you for introducing me so lovingly into the stage…the warm feeling is still spreading from my chest to my smile. Thank you for being your awesome self and organizing the best show in town. I look forward to it every time.”

It has been such a pleasure showing up and creating a place for individuals to own their voices and be their kind of beautiful. Often, we just need the opportunity, encouragement and space to realize how awesome we are.

Many great memories at Words to Live By. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

If you're around tomorrow on Tuesday, August 26, it'd be awesome to see you for my last Words to Live By show at Pressed Cafe. I'm also excited to let you know that Artemysia Fragiskatos and Brad Morden will be continuing the show.

Doors and open mic sign-up are at 7pm. Come by, share some poetry and celebrate our two-year anniversary with us!

Pride is marching in your first Pride Parade

Several years ago, I had the chance to walk in my first Pride Parade in Ottawa with a friend. However, fear controlled me and I wasn't ready to be involved. I was too afraid and ashamed of being gay. Today, I'll be walking in my first Pride Parade in Ottawa with the Ten Oaks Project. It has been a long journey of acceptance, which you can read in my Ottawa Citizen op-ed and CBC interview from last year. I'm excited to walk with my friends, and celebrate our beautiful and diverse tapestry.

"Don't deprive people of who you really are."

Those are some wise words from that friend who wanted to walk with me in the parade. I keep that quote in my wallet to remind me to be proud of who I am.

Each one of us has so much to offer the world around us, so shine brightly. Happy Pride!

The Team Players at the Ten Oaks bowl-a-thon. (Kathleen Clark)

"Do you have hope for the church?"

(Michael Vidler) (Michael Vidler)

When I arrived in Vancouver a month ago, I wasn't sure where my Vancouver Biennale project would take me. I've led numerous workshops, had a few performances and met some incredible people who have inspired, encouraged and challenged me. My mind and heart have been filled with thoughtful dialogue, as well as powerful stories and perspectives.

In my workshops and meetings, people have raised questions and comments that have caused me to reflect on my project and what it looks like to build bridges between LGBTQ, Christian and feminist communities:

  • “Is this pain worth it?”
  • “I think it comes out as hate, but a lot of the time it’s actually fear… People are just trying to protect themselves.”
  • "I want to step into community that understand me."
  • “I feel really disoriented because I feel like I have to hide parts of myself from different people.”
  • “The healing part is figuring out in all the displacement, how we can find place and hold one another.”
  • “We need to put ourselves in other people's shoes... The shoes may feel uncomfortable."
  • "Do you have hope for the church?"

(roaming-the-planet)

(Jarrah Hodge)

When that person asked me if I had hope for the church and these communities, I told him I couldn't do this work if I didn't have hope. I have to believe that change is possible for these seemingly dissimilar communities. I've seen movement and transformation in these spaces, even if it's slow and takes a long time.

Identity is complex and difficult, but I also believe that understanding and reconciliation can occur between LGBTQ, Christian and feminist communities. There's a hunger for these conversations, and a strong desire to find community and belonging.

This project is also timely in Vancouver.

The Vancouver School Board recently passed a new policy that allows transgender students to be addressed by the name and pronoun that best represents their gender identity. The changes also discourage sex-segregated activities and allow transgender students to use whatever washroom they feel most comfortable.

Chinese and Christian parents have been represented as a homogenous group by the media, tying race and faith to homophobia and transphobia. For example, the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente recently wrote about the policy and said, "Many of the Chinese parents, like Ms. Chang, are Christians..." She didn't check her facts because Cheryl Chang is actually white.

I recently chatted with Fiona Chen, a Chinese-Christian mother who defended the new policy and has been outspoken about supporting her transgender child. I admire her courage to tell her story, as well as the stereotypes she is breaking down and bridges she is building. You can hear more of her story in this CBC interview.

Fiona's story and desire to fight for her son has encouraged me to keep fighting. 

This work is tough, but I know it's worth it. It's worth the risk, pain and messiness. Change occurs when we fight and are unwilling to accept the status quo – especially when that marginalizes individuals and tells them they are worthless.

I'm looking forward to my final event where I'll bring together voices from my workshops and various conversations. There will be some spoken word poetry, storytelling and video this Saturday, June 28 at Our Town Cafe at 7pm. There’s a hunger here for these discussions and I hope my time here starts more conversations in Vancouver.

Check out some photos from my workshops at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House and Heartwood Community Cafe. Heartwood is a beautiful space that focuses on community building and social justice, so check it out if you have a chance!

Everyone loves an Asian girl, right? (poem)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9vYtk9Xzuw&feature=youtu.be Everyone Loves An Asian Girl was the first poem I wrote four and a half years ago. I was inspired after a poetry show and the words quickly flooded out of my pen.

Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. Those countless hours of writing, reflecting and performing have brought me to Vancouver as a Vancouver Biennale artist-in-residence.

Since that first poem, my work has continued to deal with who I am and the complexities of identity. Writing has helped me to negotiate, work through and come to terms with the various pieces of my story. It has also caused me to reflect and ask even more questions.

Since being in Vancouver, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and my roots.

It's uncomfortable to work through these difficult and complex parts of who we are, but it's necessary for change and growth. We often don't give ourselves the space to deal with these issues and questions.

Vancouver Poetry Slam

Last Monday, I did a mini feature at the Vancouver Poetry Slam. I performed two of my poems, Everyone Loves An Asian Girl and Minority. I hadn’t performed that piece since I wrote Everyone Loves A Jamasian Girl, a poem exploring my Chinese-Jamaican roots.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2h_aPX99Qo

So when did liking Asian girls become a trend When my friend asked me, “Jenna, why do guys like Asian girls?” I let out a smirk and didn’t know what to say It’s because we’re cute and petite and “exotic?” Wait a minute! Why did I justify? Offended because she reduced me to that I was more than just an Asian girl Who got all the stares at my – Everyone loves an Asian girl t-shirt.

This poem was inspired by my t-shirt, Everyone loves an Asian girl, which I bought in high school. I thought it was cute and true, especially with so many people having “yellow fever.”

Everyone loves an Asian girl. (Kaite Burkholder)

What's this “yellow fever?" It's a term used to describe people of non-Asian descent who have a strong interest, attraction and preference for Asian people and culture. I’ve been on the receiving end of this “fever,” particularly from men.

I used to think this obsession was funny, flattering or made me special in some strange way. However, I've come to resent this exoticization of my appearance and the assumptions associated with being an Asian woman.

It’s tiring to be objectified for how you look and having people constantly ask, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” Many people aren't usually satisfied when I tell them I'm from Canada.

Check out my poem when you have a chance and thank you to the Vancouver Poetry Slam for filming it.

Let the Vancouver Biennale adventures begin!

It has been just over a week since I arrived in Vancouver, and I’ve already met some incredible people who are doing amazing work. I’m excited to be part of the Vancouver Biennale and for the opportunity to connect with other artists and community partners. I've already learned a lot from those around me and it has been great spending time with other Biennale artists, including Andreas Strauss and my coordinator, Ken Lum.

(Andreas Strauss)

Exploring a studio space. (Andreas Strauss)

I love new adventures and exploring new places. It has been refreshing creatively to be here, and I've enjoyed taking the time to dream big and appreciate my surroundings. It's easy to move through life quickly, and forget to slow down and soak up the little moments.

A beautiful discovery on a hike with my friend. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Meet my friend, Molly. (Amanda Watson)

I'm drawn to passionate people who want to make a difference in their communities, and there's definitely exciting work happening in Vancouver. I've connected with some movers and shakers here, and I'm thrilled to be part of fostering this dialogue.

This week, I'll be starting my workshops and I have a few performances and interviews. Feel free to tune in and/or check out the workshops if you're in Vancouver.

I'm excited to see what happens as people explore the complexities of identity, spirituality and sexuality. I hope participants will see the power of their voices and will mutually learn from one another through their stories.

The F Word interview Date: Monday, June 9 Time: 12pm Vancouver Co-op Radio (online) or CFRO 100.5FM (Vancouver)

Vancouver Poetry Slam performance Date: Monday, June 9 Time: 8pm Place: Café Deux Soleils (2096 Commercial Dr)

Spoken word workshop Date: Wednesday, June 11 Time: 7pm Place: Heartwood Community Café (317 E Broadway) Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1504765246404418

Spoken word workshop Date: Sunday, June 15 Time: 1pm Place: Heartwood Community Cafe (317 E Broadway) Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1504765246404418

I'll be writing some blog posts for the Vancouver Biennale, so look out for more of my Vancouver adventures! I'll also share how a random hug with a stranger three months ago got me here. Spoiler alert: that stranger happened to be the founder of the Vancouver Biennale, Barrie Mowatt.

I'm off to Vancouver: building bridges as a Vancouver Biennale artist-in-residence

I have some very exciting news to share with you. I’ll be taking part in the Vancouver Biennale's artist-in-residence program in June! The Vancouver Biennale is a non-profit organization that celebrates art in public space. Over the next two years, the group is inviting 92 artists from around the world to come to Vancouver to create public art and dialogue. Some of the incredible artists include, Ai Weiwei and Jonathan Borofsky.

The theme of this Biennale is Open Borders/Vancouver Crossroads, and the residency program is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, I Have A Dream speech.

I have many dreams for change, freedom and equality.

I’m planning to lead numerous creative and hands-on spoken word poetry workshops, which will culminate in a public event and dialogue at the end of the month. In particular, I’m focusing on bringing together voices from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ), Christian and feminist communities.

There is often a lack of dialogue and understanding between these groups, and I’m interested in helping foster conversations and peacebuilding through spoken word. There are many bridges and connections to be built.

My purpose is to create spaces in which people can openly and freely share their stories through poetry. I also hope the workshops and event help participants see ways they can use their voices as a tool for social change in their own lives and communities. We understand the world around us through stories, which helps us to grow, learn and be challenged.

Let's bring these issues out of the shadows. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I also want people to sit in the complexities, messiness and ask questions.

This dialogue is not about finding the answers, but living the questions and mutually learning from one another. Change takes time, but I believe it begins when we listen to one another and come to recognize our similarities and common humanity. I really hope participants will be open to having these important conversations.

Change is happening and it’s exciting to be part of the movement and dialogue. 

Last month, I spoke to high school students at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s first gay-straight alliance (GSA) conference. When I was a student at a Catholic high school, I could’ve never imagined having a GSA or attending one of these conferences. It was amazing to see these students step out in courageous ways, and create safe and open spaces for LGBTQ people.

I'm excited to see what's happening in Vancouver and to hear people's stories. If you are in Vancouver and would like to be part of this dialogue, please be in touch at jenna.tennyuk@gmail.com. I hope we can build some connections and bridges together.

“ I have a dream that one day… we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

My Huffington Post piece: a gay Christian goes back to church

Easter is the most important time for Christians in which they believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins and resurrected three days later. This season reminds me of the last time I regularly went to church. I wept uncontrollably for most of the Easter service several years ago as I was still struggling to accept my sexuality. I didn't believe I belonged there as a gay Christian and left the church.

I recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on the challenges and complexities I've experienced going back to church. You can read my post, From Familiar to Foreign: A Gay Christian Goes Back to Church.

Spoiler alert: it’s really, really hard! Despite many challenges and feeling overwhelmed, I've met some really kind people and this community is an important place I long for.

My "church challenges" have been lonely and rocky. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Last year, I started a challenge to go back to church. On one of my church challenges, I caught myself looking around as I entered the building and part of me was afraid of being seen by anyone I knew. I had similar thoughts and fears when I started going to gay bars. I laughed at the irony of the situation and how much life had changed.

How could a place that used to feel like home become so foreign to me?

I’ve become a stranger who sat at the back of the church and planned an escape route in case it was too difficult to be there. I know you don’t need a church building to find God, and I’ve experienced his presence in powerful ways outside of the church and Christian communities. However, I’ve missed having that community and actively seeking God with other people.

Nature is one of the places I experience God. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Spoken word has felt like church to me. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

The church is so broken, but it has also been a place of love, safety and refuge for many people, including myself. Many of my friends who are gay and Christian long for this place of community again, but many don’t feel welcomed there.

We need to do something different and not be afraid of the tensions and complexities. Let’s be okay to sit in the mess and questions with one another. Let’s remember what Jesus’ message was actually about.

Take this season to reflect on your journey, but also think about those individuals who are on the margins, desiring a place to call home.

Words to Live By feat. Free Will

When I first started performing poetry four years ago, I was so nervous I couldn’t eat before performing or wear my glasses. I can still remember my fears when I performed the first poem I wrote, “Everyone Loves An Asian Girl,” at the Oneness Poetry Showcase. It was my second performance in public and first time sharing in Ottawa. I was welcomed with open arms to the poetry community and this show was an important space for many first-time performers. I hope Words to Live By has picked up where Oneness left off in creating an open, safe and intimate environment for artists to speak their voices.

We’re very excited to feature FreeWill, the poet who created the show, this Wednesday, March 19 at Pressed Cafe. Please come and show your support for someone who has made a huge impact in Ottawa’s spoken word community. Be sure to check out some photos from last month’s packed show!

Be a team player and help send LGBTQ children and youth to camp

Dear little Jenna, It has been a while since I last wrote to you. I think the last time was that letter on coming out and supporting LGBTQ youth through the Ten Oaks Project. You should read it again when you need some encouragement and a reminder of your awesomeness.

So guess what? Ten Oaks is having another bowl-a-thon fundraiser at the end of March and you’re putting together a team again. You had so much fun last year and it's such a great time of team spirit, dressing up, cheering and supporting an amazing cause.

You got pretty creative with your team, the Crayolas, last year.

This year, you and your friends came up with the name, Team Players!

Just to refresh your memory, the Ten Oaks Project is a volunteer-driven organization that supports children and youth from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, families and communities. They run two camps, Camp Ten Oaks and Project Acorn.

That’s right, there are actually camps for people like you and you’re not the only gay person out there. Hooray! There will also be other campers who have two dads or two moms, which is pretty awesome. People won’t have to hide or feel shame there, including this participant:

“While camp may only last a week, the sense of belonging that I get from Ten Oaks is something that I feel year-round.”

You won’t go to the camp as a participant, but you’ll get to be part of this special experience. You’ll volunteer and do spoken word workshops at Project Acorn, and see how important this space if for many marginalized youth. One participant in your workshop will even recognize the power of their voice:

“I love and miss writing. I should make more time for it. My voice may help someone else.”

Yes, you can still wear dresses. (Caro Ibrahim)

Ten Oaks is celebrating its 10th anniversary and hoping to raise $45,000 this year. Last year, the bowl-a-thon raised $40,000 and helped send 114 children and youth to camp. Isn’t that amazing?

This organization will be pretty dear to your heart because you know how difficult it is to accept your sexuality. You’ll want to do all that you can, so other young people won’t feel marginalized because they have same-sex parents or they're struggling with their sexuality.

No one should be made to feel guilt, shame or self-hatred based on who they love.

You hope other people will connect with this group because they probably have a brother, friend, daughter or co-worker who is LGBTQ. Most people these days know someone who is LGBTQ. It won't be something they can ignore or pretend doesn’t exist – even in those Christian communities you grew up in.

There has been a lot of progress, but there's still a lot of work to be done. 

Don't worry about helping everyone and changing the world right now. You're not ready quite yet. Just work on loving yourself and seeing how awesome you are. You have so much to offer those around you by simply being you.

Your older, wiser and still awesome self, Jenna

**

Please consider supporting the Ten Oaks Project and help send children and youth from LGBTQ communities to camp. The camps are heavily subsidized through generous support from people like you. Eighty per cent of campers access the sliding scale, so we want to continue creating an accessible place for young people.

You can support my team, the Team Players, by clicking here and donating. Every dollar counts and we really appreciate all your support! Check out this awesome video of some cute children bowling, which was made by Jeff Fennell, a talented filmmaker and Ten Oaks volunteer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VIyghysZiA

How are you using your voice for change?

"Giving voice" was the theme of last night's Soup Ottawa, a recurring micro-grant participatory dinner event. For $10, attendees got some delicious soup (thanks Daily Grind!) and a vote to choose the project that inspired them the most. It was great to hear many creative and interesting projects that would benefit people in the community. Presenters were passionate about helping others speak their voices and stories, and fill gaps they saw missing in their communities. The winner of the night, Jaime Koebel for her Indigenous Walking Tours, was definitely a well-deserved recipient.

Last night made me think about the importance of stepping up in our communities and encouraging others to use their voices, which often starts with speaking our own.

Some friends who signed me up for my first open mic.

Before I started perform spoken word poetry, I was petrified of being vulnerable and sharing my story. I didn’t know who I was or what my true voice sounded like. I was afraid people wouldn't accept me.

I also didn’t want to be scored for my poems, which is a defining feature of slam poetry where five random audience members score you on a scale of 0 to 10. However, a few of my good friends told me my voice was missing and I was bringing something different to the scene. 

Those words have stuck with me in everything I do.

Many of us see issues or absences in our communities, but few of us are willing to risk and step up. Maybe we believe other people will do it, or perhaps we’re afraid of failure and not being good enough. These are legitimate thoughts and fears.

However, the alternative of risking and failing is doing nothing. It’s scary to step out of our comfort zone, but we may discover new passions and potential we had no idea existed.

Our stories and voices have so much power.

I’ve learned so many new things about myself and other people by risking and realizing the impact I could have in my communities. It has been scary, exciting, overwhelming, vulnerable and incredible all at the same time.

It has been exciting to be a different voice in my communities and realize my voice mattered. It has also been encouraging to have others believe in my dreams, passions and vision for change.

Last month, I received the first Tontine Award, a new micro-grant in Ottawa that encourages women in the arts. I was very honoured to be the inaugural recipient, and I’m excited to offer free spoken word workshops for individuals in my community.

Some of the amazing women behind the Tontine Awards. (Brier Dodge/Metroland Media www.ottawacommunitynews.com).

People have believed in my voice and I want to do the same for others.

I love facilitating spoken word workshops and giving people the space to write, reflect, create and share their stories. It's amazing to see people discover their potential and recognize the power of their voices when someone simply believes in them.

Think about YOUR communities, YOUR passions and what YOU can bring to the table. It doesn’t have to be big and remember that change doesn’t happen over night. Those little steps of courage matter and each one of us has so much to offer those around us – even if we don’t realize it quite yet.

For more information about the Tontine Awards, please check out their website here. This is an important initiative to support the creativity, talent and vibrancy of women in Ottawa, as well as engaging people and building community through the arts. The upcoming deadline is on March 10, 2014.

Your voice may be missing from your community, so don't be afraid to step up and use your voice for change.

My op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen: why coming out still matters

Ellen Page, the Canadian actress and star of Juno, recently came out as gay. Since our society is obsessed with other people’s sexuality, the media exploded with this news. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) visibility is so important, but I couldn’t help but feel bothered by the amount of coverage she received. Why did people care so much about her sexuality?

It’s because coming out still matters.

We live in a heteronormative society in which opposite-sex attraction is seen as the norm. People are seen as straight until proven otherwise.

When I was struggling to come to terms with being gay, I spent countless hours crying in my bedroom and desperately searching the Internet for stories about people who were LGBTQ. These brave people – real or fictional – helped me realize I wasn’t alone and their experiences made a huge difference for me.

I could see myself in their stories. I could see myself in Page’s story.

There’s still so much stigma associated with being LGBTQ, and Page's coming out highlights the need for us to continue sharing our stories without any shame. You can check out my op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen here and in the paper tomorrow.

I will continue speaking my story. (Caro Ibrahim/Pecha Kucha)

When you have a few minutes, please watch Page’s speech. It’s beautiful, powerful, courageous and honest. Our stories can help people understand the world around us and help individuals know they aren’t alone in their experiences.

Page wanted to make a difference by telling her story. I hope I can do the same by continuing to share mine. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hlCEIUATzg

Let's talk about mental illness: how origami gave Curtis hope and purpose again (video)

I love hearing people’s stories. Stories can be a powerful way to foster understanding and connection. They can change our perspectives when we focus on our similarities instead of differences. We can see people and our own story through a new lens.

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day, a national initiative aimed at raising funds, increasing awareness, reducing stigma and changing people’s behaviours and attitudes about mental illness. For every tweet, text, talk or Facebook share, Bell is donating 5¢ to various mental health initiatives.

I love telling people’s stories.

I work for a mental health organization that has given me the opportunity to film, write and share people’s stories. Many people have kindly let me into their world and opened up about their struggles with mental health issues.

Their stories have touched me deeply and opened my eyes to a variety of experiences. I’ve seen pain and heartache, but also hope, resiliency and creativity.

One of those amazing individuals is Curtis.

Meet Curtis. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Curtis is a talented artist who beams kindness and compassion. I was blown away by his talent with origami and how easily he created these beautiful animals and shapes out of paper. But this art form wasn't always part of his life. The onset of depression changed everything for Curtis eleven years ago.

“The first time I was depressed, it was sort of the darkest,” explains Curtis. “I didn’t know if I was going to get out of it. I had no purpose to do anything and I was wondering where all my purpose went.”

The unlikely source of origami, however, would be part of his road to hope and recovery.

“I didn’t see how it [origami] would become useful to me other than that little bit of joy it gave me, but over the years I've done more and more,” Curtis says.

Origami by Curtis.

There’s still so much stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and mental health issues. Understanding and change, however, can happen through dialogue and the power of people’s stories. Let's continue these conversations past today.

This is Curtis' story. What’s yours?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MspJkGBj4lI

Give thanks: how to create a gratitude jar

My gratitude jar! (Jenna Tenn-Yuk) I've been meaning to make a gratitude jar for a long time and I finally got around to doing so. Crafts are so much fun!

Before I continue, some of you may be wondering what a gratitude jar is. Well, I'll tell you! It's a jar where you can write down various moments, people, things, etc. that you're thankful for.

It's easy to get distracted by the busyness and stresses of life. In those moments, we may get overwhelmed and lose perspective. We may even lose ourselves, dwelling on difficult situations and/or inadequacies we see in our lives.

I don't believe many people recognize or believe their true worth and value. We're constantly desiring more or feeling as if we're never good enough.

Gratitude is a powerful way to change our perspective.

There's so much to be thankful for, and it often doesn't take much to appreciate the beauty, life and excitement around us. I'm constantly amazed by the little moments of life and awesome people who inspire me each day.

I could even make a gratitude jar filled of hilarious moments with my little cousins. They make me laugh and remind me it's the small things that really matter, from our ice cream adventures to writing a song together at Christmas. These are the instants I want to remember and fill my jar with.

December and January are often times of reflection, change and moving forward. I'm sure many of you have been thinking about this past year and creating some goals for 2014.

It's important to keep the big picture in mind, but I encourage you to appreciate the little moments and not let them slip through your hands. Hold onto those experiences and write them down because they can be really encouraging in the difficult times.

So let's get back to the gratitude jar. It's really easy to make! All you need is a jar, some ribbon, buttons, paper to write on and gratitude. My friend and I also put glitter in our jars, which obviously made life more fabulous!

Don't forget the glitter! (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

(Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

What are you grateful for?