The Gem Story

Source:  A Teachable Moment, by Cain, Cummings and Stanchfield.  Story by Rich Allen, Impact Learning

Group size:  Any

Purpose:  A story you can tell to talk about the "gems" of learning they got from the program.

Props Needed

  1. The Gem Story
  2. Small glass stones, enough for every participant.

Activity Preparation

  1. Prep time needed: 5 minutes
  2. The activity can be accomplished in any setting, individual or group setting.

Time needed

  • Directions: Facilitator will read script, or have a group member read the story.
  • Activity: 10 – 20 minutes, with discussion.
  • Debrief: 10 minutes; may be more with larger group size.


  • The activity can be accomplished in any setting: individual or group setting.
  • Participants may be seated in a classroom or gathered around in a circle

Activity Directions:

  • Have participants find a seat or gather together – they may be seated in classroom style or round circle group.
  • Tell the story. Be animated in your delivery.  The more memorable you make the story, the more impactful the stones will be for the participants. 
  • Adjust the story as you need to make it your own and to have meaning for your participants.
  • As you are telling the story, pass out a few stones when you get to the part about when he discovers he has diamonds, rubies, etc.
  • Then after you finish the story, pass out the rest of the stones. You'll be amazed at how many people were concerned that they weren't going to get a stone like the first three did--even adults. 
  • To close the story, talk about how you hope the participants were able to pick up a few 'gems' during the program and that they will value them like precious stones.
  • Read Facilitators Script – complete handout toward end of activity.

Facilitator script: “Let’s gather around. I am going to read you The Gem Story.  (Place a few glass stones in your pocket before beginning the story.)

A traveler was on a long journey. Each morning he got up and traveled along his path. One morning he woke up and set out again on his journey. However, he soon noticed that on this particular morning the path appeared to be getting more and more narrow. He began to grow concerned that he had taken a wrong turn, and decided that he would ask the next person he saw that morning if he was indeed on the correct path. But no one else was on the path that morning. He walked and walked, and it wasn’t until noon that he encountered the first person he had seen all day. He entered a clearing in the woods, and there at the far side of the clearing sat a very old man. This old man had long, flowing white hair, and a white beard, and had his eyes closed.

The traveler was quite excited to see the old man. He hurried up to him and asked: “Excuse me, but I was traveling along the path this morning, and it began to get very narrow, and I started to wonder if I was on the right path. Can you tell me? Am I going the right way?”  The old man just sat there in silence, his eyes still closed.

The traveler tried again, but could get no response. Finally, in frustration, he started to leave. He was at the far side of the clearing when he heard a sound, and he turned around. The old man had opened his eyes, and was staring straight out in front of him. And when he spoke he said, very softly:  “You’re on the right path. Keep going.”

But the traveler was at the far side of the clearing, and wasn’t sure if he had heard correctly, so he asked the old man to repeat himself. The old man did say something, but this time it was something quite different. This time he said:  “Gather what you find before you cross the river.” And then he closed his eyes once again.

Now, the traveler had heard this last part quite clearly, but he was confused -- what did it mean? But he could get nothing more from the old man, and finally the traveler did leave, continuing on the path as before.

It was hot on the path that day, and the traveler grew sweaty, tired, and thirsty. And the path, while growing ever more narrow, was still visible enough to follow. Finally, late in the afternoon, the traveler turned a corner and found in front of himself a river. He was so excited! He ran down to the river, drank some of the water, and used more water to wash himself. When he was fully refreshed he started to wade to the other side, but as he took his first step the words of the old man came back to him, and he paused.

“What did he say?” the traveler asked himself.  And then he remembered the words: “Gather what you find before you cross the river.”  “Did he mean this river?” wondered the traveler. “Ah, he was crazy!” and he began to move again. But the words of the old man were echoing so strongly in his mind that he found himself backing up to the bank of the river. He looked around.

“If I was going to gather something’” he asked himself, “what would I take here?”
He looked around, and saw trees, shrubs, and pebbles by the river’s edge -- but nothing of any value. But the words of the old man were so strong in his mind that he said:
“This may be the strangest thing I have ever done, but ... ” and he bent down and picked up some of the pebbles and put them in his pocket. (Shake the stones you have in your pocket.  Loud enough that the group can hear them.)  Then he waded across the river and continued traveling. However, at the far side of the river he soon lost his way and traveled aimlessly until he found another path to follow several hours later. He knew he could now never retrace his steps back the way he had come.

Late that night the traveler slept by the side of the road. He woke up in the middle of the night, but did not know what had awakened him. Then he realized that he had rolled over on the pebbles in his pocket, and he shook his head.

“That old man was crazy,” he said aloud. “I don’t know why I picked these up!”
He reached into his pocket and took out the pebbles. He was in the act of throwing them away when suddenly the moonlight shone down on what he held in his hand, and he paused.

“No,” he said. “It can’t be!”

Because what he was holding in his hand were no longer mere pebbles. Now they were diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds -- precious gems of all kinds. (Hand a glass stone to 3-4 people listening to the story.)  And he realized what had happened -- they had been precious gems all along, but when he had first picked them up they had been covered in dirt, and in his pocket they had rubbed against each other so that the dirt had come off and he could see them for what they were.

And then the traveler said the most important thing of all. He said:
“Oh. OH! I wish I had gathered more pebbles, before I crossed that river!”

Debrief the story, make sure everyone goes home with one glass stone.  Have them name what their ‘gem’ of learning is with the group.


  • What was your experience as you listened to the story?
  • What thoughts were you aware of?
  • What do you think is the purpose of the story?
  • What are some pebbles from your life?
  • How can you look at them as Gems now that you are in recovery?
  • What are some ‘gems’ of learning you can apply to recovery and wellness?
  • If you were to take one of these stones home with you, what is one ‘gem’ you have learned in class?
  • What would you tell others about your recovery?

Recovery/Wellness Metaphor: So often in life we look at the things in our past as annoying pebbles. Especially in addiction we have done some messed up things and very often people have done messed up things to us. Through the process of recovery, we learn that these pebbles actually become gems when washed in the river of recovery. Some negative experiences from our past, can be like walking with a pebble in our shoe causing us pain each step we take. By entering in recovery we get to take out our pebbles and look at them differently trying to find the gem hidden within.

Role of Facilitator: Take time to debrief the story with participants, helping them explore what some of the gems of learning they have learned in their recovery.