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Story Chain Gives Audio Gifts to People with Developmental Issues

The Story Chain Crew
Courtesy of Story Chain
Members of the Story Chain family present Javon Yoakum with an MP3 player loaded with stories his family and friends have recorded especially for him. From left to right: Dee Yoakum, Felicia Chappelle, Jonathan Platt, Javon Yoakum, Josh Carson, Mary Evans and Major Kirk Keller.

People with developmental disabilities often have behavioral challenges and trouble controlling their emotions. When those things happen, it helps to hear the voice of a trusted friend or family member.

Jonathan Platt says that’s where his organization comes in. Story Chain gives their clients who have disabilities MP3 players and headphones, free of charge. That way, they can keep those comforting voices close by for whenever they need them. And it’s more than just bedtime stories.

“We also have these things called ‘social stories,’ which is just somebody talking to the client, basically saying, ‘Hey, man! Everything is cool!’ We put music to it. We try to make it fun. Sometimes we put sound effects to it,” Platt says.

He says it’s also a gift for his clients' parents, because "they’re so busy, and their time is so extended. They don’t have time to do the real simple things, like reading a story to their kids.”

Twenty years ago, Dee Yoakum adopted two boys who have multiple developmental disabilities, including ADHD and autism. Both boys are in their 20s now, but Dee is still a more than full time mom.

“You face challenges you thought you wouldn’t, or maybe you hadn’t foreseen how they’re going to function and live in a world that creates norms that they don’t necessarily fit into. especially when they’ll never be independent and always have to be in assisted living or have assistance. It’s a lifelong journey,” she says.

One of her boys, Karron, is in assisted living now. Dee says he can be forgetful. Then, he gets worried and obsessed. Sometimes, he’ll call her three or four times a night for reassurance. So, the MP3 player he received has been helpful.

“It’s a great comfort for him to have,” Dee says. “And it’s been that soothing voice to listen to—to kind of put his mind at ease. He knows these voices and his mind is occupied and maybe he’s not picking up the phone quite as much and saying ‘Mom, where are you? What are we doing next?’”

Yoakum has worked on recordings for both her boys—Javon and Karron— and it gives her a chance to give them reassurance, even when she’s not with them.

Officer Mark Brown and Karron Yoakum
Courtesy of Story Chain
Beavercreek Officer Mark Brown shares a laugh with Karron Yoakum. They became friends when Karron and his brother Javon invited Brown to eat lunch with them on Brown's first day at their high school.

“Just know you are loved,” she says in an audio message to Javon. “No matter what is frustrating you in life, no matter what angers you, no matter what is good, bad, or indifferent—know that you are loved.”

Beavercreek Police Officer Mark Brown, who worked with Javon and Karron when they were in high school, recorded some stories too.

“We tried to design a story based on memories that Karron and I had when we worked at the high school together," he says. "So maybe he was having a bad day at school and acted out, and we could get him to calm down by giving him a ride in the police cruiser and maybe pretending to arrest one of the teachers."

And Brown's recording doesn't disappoint.

“I loved getting to arrest Ms. Fry, and I remember how much fun it was to do that,” he says in one of his audio stories for Karron. He also gives Karron some advice about what to do to avoid upset. “When I am feeling frustrated, I need to take a step back and get away from the situation that is frustrating me.”

Officer Brown says he’s always quick to help people in the developmental disabilities community—not just with stories, but also by showing up at events for them and giving them rides— because they helped him out on his first day at Beavercreek High School.

“I really didn’t know anybody and didn’t know how to interact with kids. So, they kind of had lunch with me and we all started talking. They were the first group I had a connection with, and I just kind of stuck with them,” Brown says.

Story Chain got its start recording parents in prison, so their children on the outside could hear them tell stories. Founder Jonathan Platt is anxious to get back to work in prison after the pandemic. But he says they’ll keep working for people with developmental challenges, and they’ll keep looking for ways to comfort kids in tough situations.

“Story Chain is developed to connect the parent’s voice with the ear of the child,” he says. “That’s our mission statement, and that’s what we want to do.”

You can learn more, and volunteer, at www.Story-Chain.org.