Helping kids value their own stories and the stories of others.

Once Upon Our Time Capsule reimagines the tradition of a time capsule to engage kids in documenting, sharing, and amplifying their stories and perspectives.

Founder Stacey Gillett instructs a kid at an in person event.
A young girl smiles into the camera held by a volunteer's tripod.
A close up of an Our Time Capsule participant signing her crayon drawing.
A young girl holds up her copy of the OTC book, The Great Wind

There’s a lot going on in the world: the lingering impacts of pandemic, intense polarization, rise in everyday gun violence and the breakneck speed of social media and news.

A volunteer in an OUOTC t-shirt help's kids at an in person event.
A group of children and a volunteer record another boy sitting on a colorful bench.

What We Do

Each June, we launch a new Youth Time Capsule, with a new theme, creating an outlet for youth to share their stories and discover the stories of others. We aim to increase kids' sense of belonging and connectedness to school and community, which improves self-esteem, increases student engagement, and supports academic achievement.


Through our structured curriculum, teacher support, and "time capsule kits," we help kids document their views of the world with writing, drawing, audio and video. Their stories are then captured and preserved in our digital Time Capsule.


Between June and December, the Time Capsule is open for exploration.  We create in-person and online ways of exchanging stories and building relationships across communities. On December 31, the Time Capsule is closed for the next ten years.


We amplify what we hear from kids through creative means and data analysis to raise awareness of their experiences and perspectives. Check out The Great Wind, a children’s book that amplifies the experiences and art submitted by youth in the 2021 Chicago Time Capsule.

Why We Do It

There is a pressing youth mental health crisis in America; more than 40 percent of teenagers state that they struggle with persistent feelings of sadness. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts only worsened the mental health crisis already underway.

Fortunately, there are ways to help. Research shows increasing a kids’ sense of belonging, and sense of self-esteem, can improve their mental health. Our program builds on evidence-based programs which show that storytelling, and discovering peers’ stories, increase feelings of connectedness, social belonging, and self-worth, all of which lead to improved mental health and academic outcomes.

Who We Serve

We focus on the pre-teen years: ages 9-14 - the developmental stage when kids are becoming more independent, beginning to see the point of others more clearly, and encountering a range of significant - and often challenging - emotional and social changes. We believe by starting early we can build key skills that can help kids as they enter the teenage years.