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That isn't a new automated teller machine, there in the school office at Cloverdale High School.

It's an interactive kiosk that tells stories, stories about the history of Sonoma County's northernmost city and about the lives of people from all walks of life there.

Beyond being often fascinating, the interviews displayed by the machine seek to introduce neighbor to neighbor, counteract prejudice and suspicion, and develop a sense of "us-and-them" into one of "we."

Officially termed a "Mobile Interactive Museum," the human-connecting technology features a good many interviews aimed at dissolving the divide between Latinos and Anglos in the north county. But at the push of a button, people of all sorts tell their stories, share their successes and challenges and by implication invite others to step for a moment into their shoes.

"People tend to other-ize," said Phyllis Rosenfield of Santa Rosa. She's one of the county's most diligent proponents of genuine acceptance of diversity and a key member of the partnership that created the kiosk. She'll move it next month to the Cloverdale Citrus Fair.

"This is an opportunity to cross boundaries and make deeper connections," she said.

The kiosk came to be through the shared vision of a nonprofit that Rosenfield founded, called Listening for a Change; the Cloverdale History Center; and Cloverdale High School. English and history students of teacher Wendy Conner conducted the oral-history interviews, some of which can also be seen on the website of Listening for a Change.

Trained by the agency, students have been interviewing Cloverdale residents on video for four years. Teacher Conner said the process has taught students interview skills, built their confidence and opened their eyes to the value of moving beyond presumptions about a person and delving into his or her life.

"They realize there is so much more to people than you see on the street," the teacher said.

2013 Cloverdale High grad Caroline Naiman said she grew up in the small town thinking she knew everybody, and that conducting interviews with Listening for a Change showed how much she didn't know.

For one thing, said Naiman, who's 18 and now a student at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, the oral histories "bring a lot of respect for our elders."

"You think you know them, but you really don't," she said. "To learn what they've been through is really cool."

Her mother, Laurie Naiman, is among those interviewed for the project. She speaks about how her life has been affected by multiple sclerosis.

The idea to take the interviews into the community through an interactive, mobile kiosk might well still be just an idea were it not for a surprising and memorable moment last year at an informational reception the partners held in Cloverdale.

A well-traveled local fellow named John "Dutch" Lyons heard about the event and came to hear more about the oral histories and the concept of a moveable museum.

Conner admits, "Honestly, I thought he was a homeless guy who had walked in off the street."

In fact, Lyons was a creative sort and longtime practitioner of Transcendental Meditation who'd lived in Sicily, worked as the gardener and resident artist at Big Sur's Nepenthe restaurant in the 1960s and operated Juanito's Burritos in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the 1970s.

Resources To Help

North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373

NAMI Sonoma County warmline: 707-527-6655

Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181

For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org

"He was pretty much penniless for a lot of his life," said his brother, Noel Lyons of Santa Rosa. "I would say he was one who marched to his own drummer."

In recent years, Dutch Lyons lived in Cloverdale on an inheritance and actively supported students involved in sports and other endeavors at Cloverdale High.

He spoke with Rosenfield at the gathering in town last year, then handed her a check for $7,000. A few months later, Lyons died. He was 75.

His gift allowed the purchase of the Mobile Interactive Museum. It was programmed with the oral histories conducted by the students and with stories and features on Cloverdale history.

"It really engages people," said Elissa Morrash, director of Cloverdale Historical Society, operator of the downtown History Center. Such interactive technology, she said, "is really the way I think museums are going."

"Our theme has been to make history come alive," Morrash said, adding that a wonderful aspect of the mobile kiosk is that new content and features can be added constantly.

The kiosk was located for a time at the History Center, then moved to its current spot at the high school.

"It's one of the coolest projects ever," said Principal Theresa Burke, long a supporter of the Listening for a Change approach to bringing people together.

The mobile museum will be an attraction at the mid-February Cloverdale Citrus Fair, then will be moved to other locations in town. Potential sites include City Hall, the public library, markets and other businesses.

Primary proponent Rosenfield, whose quest against intolerance and the us-versus-them mentality grew from having lost loved ones to the Holocaust, envisions story-telling kiosks in Santa Rosa and elsewhere throughout the county.

She said she's not so naive as to think that acquainting people through mobile technology is the way to achieve greater empathy and acceptance. But she's encouraged by signs that it is one way.

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.)

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