Is it tough communicating with your kids? With your parents?

Social media has provided a whole new way of connecting people, but there still are times when the only effective way to communicate is face to face.

With the increasing use of new technology there has been a decrease in communication skills, according to Stevie Ray, a master comedian, corporate trainer and syndicated columnist.

"Kids can't talk to each other," he said. "It hurts them in the long run."

Ray has been using comedy improve to help provide those skills to clients at HOPE Coalition, an advocacy organization that serves Goodhue and Wabasha counties and western Pierce County.

Clients need to be able to communicate to find employment, to advocate for themselves, to represent themselves in court, perhaps to seek custody of children, to find housing and other challenging situations.

Back in the 1930s improv was used to teach immigrant children who did not all speak the same language how to play and work together, said Linda Flanders, development coordinator for HOPE Coalition. In the 1950s it evolved into an art form, and today is best known for its comedy implications.

The Minnesota State Arts Board awarded HOPE a "Partners in Participation" Legacy grant to "use the artistic process" for a year to improve lives and build communication skills for clients and the general public, free of charge.

To tackle the challenge, Ray developed the Skills for Life Project, a series of workshops organized in partnership with community organizations and residents. He uses comedy improv methods as the primary training tool.

"This project will show the public how improv can actually change somebody's life by giving them new skills," Ray said.

The results of the year-long community project can be seen at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Sheldon Theatre.

"The 'Comedy Showcase' is HOPE Coalition's way of giving people who believe in innovation a firsthand look at how laughter and learning can be used even more broadly to empower people and improve the quality of life locally," Flanders said.

The project is being evaluated by Wilder Research Center, Minneapolis. Preliminary results will be presented during the showcase.