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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Professor, Others Lending Story-Telling Talents to Charity Fundraiser

What happens when a nationally-renowned poet and a retired Navy captain with ties to Old Dominion University join a television news anchor, a yarn artist, a rabbi and others on the microphone at a popular Norfolk bistro?

"We could all end up in jail," quipped Capt. Dick Whalen, the recently retired director of ODU's Office of Military Activities.

While it may sound like the basis for an off-color joke, the motley ensemble - that includes Whalen and Tim Seibles, an ODU English professor and National Book Award finalist - will form the backbone of a Jan. 19 "And That's My Story" Story Slam. The event is being held to raise funds for Colley Avenue-based ForKids, an organization that provides shelter for over 50 families "in crisis," educational opportunities to more than 300 children and clinical services to about 175 parents and their children, according to the group's website.

The Saturday event at Chef Monroe Duncan's Night of the Iguana restaurant, on Hampton Boulevard, begins at 7:30 p.m. and includes buffet-style fare. Tickets are $50 each and can be purchased online at www.homesforkids.org. For $1 per vote, attendees will also be able to select their favorite performer.

In addition to Seibles and Whalen, the participant roster includes: Hope Mihalap, the event's returning champion and a nationally acclaimed humorist; Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg, of Ohef Sholom Temple; Barbara Ciara, of WTKR news; Cathy Francis, a musician; Todd Rosenlieb, dancer and artistic director of Todd Rosenlieb Dance in Hampton Roads; Capt. Duff McDuffie, assistant chief of staff - Strategic Planning (N5) Expeditionary Combat Command Navy; Rico Robinson, ForKids Children's Services; Helen F. Uhlfelder, yarn artist and writer; and Kim Simon Fink, a community activist and "Story Slam Mastermind."

Billy Young, ForKids' chief development officer, said the event takes storytellers out of their normal context and provides them an opportunity to engage attendees in an intimate setting. This year's theme is "connections," he said.

"Last year we found the tellers had a good time and the audience enjoyed seeing another side of people who have some degree of public persona," Young said. "Ultimately, it's for a cause we believe is important - helping homeless families."

Young said the 125-seat event sold out last year, so purchasing advance tickets online is recommended for this year's Story Slam.

Seibles said he is still debating between two stories and hasn't made his performance choice yet. It will be his first time participating in a storytelling event.

"I have more nerves here because I'll be telling a story by heart - it's not a poem," he said. "The manner of story-telling will likely reflect my style as a poet. It probably won't be unrecognizable, but I've never sat down and told a story."

Whalen said he isn't trying to launch a second or third career with the event, but it is "obviously a good cause."

He'll tell a story with "lots of color and action associated with an event that occurred on the high seas in the southern Atlantic from my ship driving days." Whalen added: "It was an amazing thing and I will try to do it in a manner that doesn't upset sensibilities."

For those who can't attend, performance videos will be posted after the event on the ForKids website and on the group's "ForKidsVA" YouTube channel. Online voting will also be enabled to keep the fundraising effort ongoing, Young said.