“My Place” is a series of blog posts authored by the Counter Tools team that aims to shed light on the impact place has had on each of our lives. In this inaugural My Place post, we hear from Senior Project Director, Charla Rios (Hodges).

Being tasked with writing Counter Tools first official post in our new “My Place” series, I knew I wanted to spark interest. I began to dream of ornate ideas for a post: census data and immigration, food access in communities of color, and the list goes on. Although these ideas are definitely read-worthy (and I am highly likely to write about them soon), this wouldn’t be an authentic approach to my prompt of making it personal. It didn’t take long to figure out a better fit.

Asheboro, North Carolina (estimated population: 25,863) is my hometown, located in the center of North Carolina. It is notoriously known for the NC Zoological Park. It’s a blue collar town, with the third largest employer being Klaussner Furniture manufacturing company.[2] Asheboro City Schools (ACS) is the seventh largest. Within ACS, there are two middle schools that converge into Asheboro High School – the home of the Blue Comets. In Asheboro, we had a hospital, a few grocery stores, a small mall and other standard amenities. Sleepy, no-frills and quaint are all descriptors or where I am from.

Unless you are from North Carolina, you probably haven’t heard of Asheboro unless you were an avid reader of Forbes Magazine circa 2008. In the late 2000s/early 2010s, Forbes Magazine and CBS News both released pieces noting Asheboro as a dying town based on job loss, largely in manufacturing. [3] [4] To a non-resident of the town reading the article, Asheboro can appear an extremely dismal place to live. For some, this may be true, though I would argue this isn’t a full picture of Asheboro. The quantitative data is true and I have good, life-shaping stories of Asheboro. My mother worked for Asheboro City Schools as a nurse from the time I started kindergarten to my senior year of high school. High school is when I decided that I wanted to study public health thanks to the requirement of a senior project. As a teen, I worked at the NC Zoo and a fast food restaurant and enjoyed many a Friday night football game in the Blue Comets’ stadium. It was the same stadium my father played football in once Asheboro High became an integrated school in the 1960s.

Why do I nostalgically bring up these memories? To illustrate that some stories that speak the loudest and can interfere with our thoughts of place and guide the dominant story. Data can give us a view of a community, in this case, the “death” of a town. However, sometimes the quantitative data isn’t enough; there are complexities and nuances to stories that may be seen as “life” to others. In my work with clients today, I find it necessary to ask more questions about the place that people live rather than only relying on the quantitative data to give me the full story.

Consider looking deeper at the next data story you are given. What are the nuances and complexities you would want to know more about? How can you find the answers? Go beyond the story that is the loudest to make sure you have the full picture of place. It could mean the difference in life or death of your own storytelling.