Walla Walla – Where Resilience Trumps Aces

walla walla welcome_2017-04-29 17.27.36.jpgLike the sweet onions for which Walla Walla is famous, the story of this community’s 10+ years of  investment in becoming a Trauma-Informed Community has many layers.

Teri Barila is the person widely recognized as the initial champion and catalyst for Walla Walla’s trauma informed approach, after she attended a conference in 2007 where Rob Anda, one of the original authors of the ACEs study, challenged attendees to take the information he had presented about ACEs and “get something started in your local community.”

I had the privilege of meeting and talking with Teri Barila, as well as several members of Walla Walla’s CRI Team:

  • Mike Bates, Director of the Walla Walla County Corrections Department,
  • Becky Turner, ED of the Successful Transition and Reentry (STAR) Project,
  • Tony McGuire, instructor for the Building Maintenance Technology program taught inside the Washington State Penitentiary, and
  • Jeff Gwinn, supervisor for the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program

I came away from our conversation deeply moved and greatly inspired.

In the decade since starting this work in earnest, Teri told me, “Two central goals have withstood the test of time:

  1. create a community that is conversant in ACEs, brain science, and resilience; and
  2. INTEGRATE that knowledge and the related research into changing the practices in our schools, human services organizations, businesses, justice systems, healthcare systems, and elsewhere to better respond to the ‘bad things that happen to good people.'”

From the beginning, however, Teri says, “we thought it would be important to focus on the hopefulness of RESILIENCE, not the negative outcomes and ‘shame and blame’ of the ACEs.” Hence the names of the cross-sector, community coalition they formed (Children’s Resilience Initiative, or CRI) and their website: ResilienceTrumpsAces.org.

From the beginning, they’ve operated at multiple layers and levels:

  • MEET 1:1 WITH STAKEHOLDERS AND POTENTIAL PARTNERS: Teri came to this effort with a strong background in community organizing and coalition-building. So she and Mark Brown, a co-facilitator she engaged from the beginning, developed a list of individuals and organizations who could be key stakeholders and partners in the effort to make Walla Walla a trauma-informed community. Then, they met with them one by one to share information about ACEs, brain and resilience research, the issues they saw in Walla Walla related to ACEs, and their goal of creating “a community conversant in ACEs and resilience.” At these meetings, they answered questions, addressed resistance and doubts, and refined their core message.
  • FORM AN INCLUSIVE CROSS-SECTOR TEAM: After the 1:1 meetings, they put together a team of interested stakeholders and partners, and made sure to include parent representatives.
  • CRAFT A CHARTER PLAN: The CRI team created a Charter Plan mapping out their vision, goals, and an elevator pitch that team members could use to engage additional partners, about how the entire Walla Walla community could benefit from understanding ACEs and resilience, and why it was important to use that knowledge to change practices, policies, and systems in the community.
  • SECURE ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENTS FROM COALITION PARTNERS: They crafted an MOU for partner organizations to sign, to commit that they would send staff to training about ACEs, brain science and resilience; and that they would form internal agency “core teams” of staff who would then evaluate and revise their agency’s internal policies, practices and programs to make them “trauma-informed.”
  • DEVELOP AND PROVIDE TRAINING: They pulled together all of the resources and research they could find and created a 3-hour basic training and started offering it to local nonprofit agencies, businesses, community and civic groups, schools, churches, and governmental departments (including police and sheriff’s departments, the local prison, juvenile justice and others). They realized early on that the information about ACEs could feel ‘shaming and blaming’ to parents, so they have been very intentional about how this is presented, and have involved numerous parents to help develop the materials and craft the message. Periodically, they also brought in outside experts to give presentations, provide trainings, and help “deliver the message.”
  • MEET REGULARLY/DISCUSS INTEGRATION: The CRI team meets monthly to discuss how each partner organization is integrating the knowledge about trauma and resilience into their day to day work, and to identify opportunities for further collaboration and expansion. The “integration” discussion at every meeting has been transformational, as it helps to document the successes of a trauma-informed approach and gives everyone additional ideas to try in their own organizations. (NOTE: In a future blog post, I’ll share information from Mike Bates, Becky Turner, Tony McGuire, and Jeff Gwinn about some of the specific things they’ve done in each of their organizations and programs to integrate the knowledge about ACEs and resilience into practice.)
  • Oct-resil month_2017-05-01 14.20.35.jpgSECURE HIGH LEVEL GOVERNMENT & INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT: For one of their early trainings where they brought in an outside expert, John Medina, for a half-day forum on ACEs and brain science, the Walla Walla School Board voted unanimously to close the schools for the day so that all school district employees could attend. As a result, they had attendance of 1200 people at that training.  In addition, they approached the Walla Walla City Council and requested that they declare the month of October “Resilience Month.” This has now become an annual proclamation and provides a terrific opportunity to draw additional attention to the topic at the beginning of every school year.

Teri cites several other keys to success in this work:

  • MULTIPLE EXPOSURES: they realized early on that, in order to really “get it,” most people would need to be exposed to the information about ACEs, trauma, brain science and resilience multiple times, through multiple channels, from multiple experts, in multiple locations and multiple formats (trainings, flyers, bulletins, PSA’s, posters, games, social media, etc). They’ve held formal events like classroom trainings, speakers events, conferences, and film screenings – and, yes, they’ve shown the films “Paper Tigers” and “Resilience” here too, because, as Teri explains, “even though the films are about our community, not everyone here knew our own story!”.

They have also used informal apprYoure brave_brilliant_oh so resilient_WallaWalla_Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 6.41.31 PM.pngoaches, like quick surveys of shoppers at the community’s Saturday Farmer’s Market and the community 4th of July celebration to gauge what people know about ACEs and resilience, providing basic information about developing resilience to new parents at the local hospital and at parent-teacher conferences at the local schools, an art show related to resilience, and a traveling signboard that appears at different places around town.

They also developed a whole series of games and tools that they now sell on their website.  (note: I bought a copy of everything they’ve created and am bringing it all back to Lancaster! Good thing I packed an extra empty duffel bag!)

  • MEASUREMENT: They have conducted multiple surveys, focus groups and other measures to assess overall awareness and understanding of ACEs, resilience and related topics in the community at large. In addition, individual agencies have gathered their own internal data on the results of taking a trauma-informed approach.
  • ADJUST WHEN NEEDED:  Though their initial focus was on addressing ACEs and building resilience for children and youth in the community, they have realized it is every bit as important to build adult capabilities as well (see next item). So, they are about to change the name of their initiative from “Children’s Resilience Initiative” to “Community Resilience Initiative”, to reflect this. They have made other adjustments along the way, as needed, listening carefully and with humility to coalition partners, parents, youth and others.
  • BUILD ADULT CAPABILITIES: They have come to understand how critical it is for all of the adults involved in the schools, human services agencies, parents and other adults to be in touch with their OWN “stuff” related to their experiences of trauma, and to have the necessary skills and abilities to be resilient themselves, before they can help children develop resilience. Teri highly recommends this 5 minute video overview from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child that addresses this topic.  In addition, here’s specific information from Harvard about ways service providers, caregivers and other adults can build their own capabilities and help other adults do the same.
  • SUSTAINABILITY: Over the past several years, they have implemented a robust “train the trainer” initiative so they have an extensive cadre of people across many of the CRI partner agencies and in the community at large who can deliver the initial 3 hour trauma/ACES/resilience training. They have also created a “Speakers Bureau” of CRI team members who can help carry the message out to new audiences.

As inspiring as it was to hear from Teri, Mike, Becky, Tony and Jeff about the importance of this trauma-informed work from their adult perspectives, for me, the most moving testimonial about why it matters so deeply for our communities to understand ACEs and work to build resilience comes from several young men in Walla Walla’s Jubilee Leadership Program sharing their own stories of hope and resilience after trauma in this incredibly touching video.



A Heart for “Children from Hard Places” in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho


idaho aces prevention project_safe_image.pngCoeur d’Alene’s journey to implement trauma-informed practices in their schools
and youth-serving agencies got kicked off in a big way with a keynote presentation in October, 2014 to the Idaho School Counselors Association Conference titled “Catching Kids As They Fall.” The speaker was Jim Sporleder, who had spearheaded the trauma-informed turnaround at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, featured in the documentary film “Paper Tigers.”

Kelli Aiken.jpgCoeur d’Alene school counselor Kelli Aiken had secured Sporleder as the keynote based on the recommendation of her brother, who works in the juvenile justice system in Washington state. Kelli had seen the pervasive effects of trauma in the kids she saw in her office every day and knew the subject of trauma and resilience would resonate with other school counselors.

“We had a great turnout for that event and afterward, people wanted to know what’s next?” Kelli explains. So, after the School Counselors conference, Kelli gathered other partners to start figuring out next steps.

They started a Facebook page called “Idaho ACES Prevention Project”, described as “A group of community leaders, professionals, family members and friends dedicated to reducing exposure to toxic stress and providing trauma informed care.”

There, they started posting relevant articles and resources related to trauma and resilience.

Then the partners co-hosted several other events in quick succession to increase awareness and understanding of trauma and to build momentum for addressing it:

  • April, 2015: a full-day workshop with Jim Sporleder and Teri Barila from Walla Walla, titled “Building a Trauma-Informed Model and Making a Paradigm Shift in Our Communities” – over 400 people attended
  • May, 2015: a presentation by Christian Moore titled “Flipping the Resilience Switch”. Moore is author of “The Resilience Breakthrough” and the “Why Try” curriculum.
  • 2016: several screenings of the film “Paper Tigers”
  • Early 2017: several screenings of the film “Resilience”, attended by more than 600 people

By using the online event planning and registration tool “EventBrite” for all of these events, they’ve been able to build a huge list of interested people and agencies throughout the community who have attended these events. They’re now using that list to keep people informed and engaged with monthly “Lunch & Learn” sessions on various topics related to trauma and resilience, and a monthly newsletter with upcoming events, training opportunities, tips, resources and other information.

Simultaneously, over the past five years or so, staff at Children and Family Services (CFS) were starting to look at the role of trauma in the lives of children they served. They started offering trauma trainings and talking about implementing a trauma-informed approach with child protection workers, therapists, and foster parents. They saw that different agencies that served children, youth and families were each doing their own thing and had different philosophies and approaches.

“We were inspired by the idea of a collaborative community, to adopt and apply a common model across systems, so every child and family being served in the community has consistency of care with all agencies and systems using a common language and philosophy of care,” Andi, from CFS, explains.

They looked at several models, including Bruce Perry’s model, the Sanctuary Model from Sandra Bloom, the “Attachment, Regulation and Competency (ARC)” model, and an evidence-based approach called “Trust-Based Relational Intervention” (TBRI).  While each model had many similarities, and common core concepts, each model also had different requirements and costs to get trained, certified, and be able to implement.

Ultimately, they decided to adopt TBRI, as it seemed to offer the best balance of accessibility, cost, and relatively low barriers to getting started and full implementation. Initially, Andi and another CFS colleague, Roxanne, went to Texas for a week-long TBRI training.

Roxanne explains, “TBRI incorporates the best of Bruce Perry’s concepts and work, but in layman’s terms and in a very practical and usable way on a day to day basis.” Roxanne described the TBRI training as one of the best trainings of her entire career.

They are now developing a set of standards and guidelines for other agencies in their collaborative that want to implement TBRI to follow. They already have commitments from 8 other agencies to send staff to Texas this autumn for TBRI training, including representatives from the school district, children’s mental health workers, juvenile justice, child protection workers, Head Start, Special Needs recruitment, and therapists from a local shelter home for children in crisis.

“Our long-range goal is to create a collaborative, common system of care across the entire state of Idaho,” Andi explains. “But for right now, we’re working really hard to do this in Coeur D’Alene.”

Trauma-informed mentoring at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Calgary


At Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area, Karen Orser and Cynthia Wild are on a mission:  to make sure all of their staff and their mentors (“Bigs”) understand the brain science that explains how the behaviors of the children they serve (“Littles”) may tell a story of other things going on in the child’s life, including traumatic experiences, toxic stress, and adversity. That knowledge is foundational to their focus on trauma-informed mentoring at BBBS Calgary.


Cynthia, Director of Service Delivery, explains, “It’s been important for us to differentiate between ‘trauma-informed’ and ‘trauma-specific’. At BBBS, we don’t do trauma-specific care or treatment. We don’t do therapy, we don’t focus on the abuse someone has experienced. Our approach is a relational-based intervention that’s trauma-informed. This means recognizing the role trauma has played in the life of that young person and helping our mentors think about and re-frame the behavior they may see with their “Littles”. Instead of thinking “What’s wrong with you?” we want our mentors to think “What has happened to you?” We can’t take the child’s behavior personally.  We want our mentors to engage in specific, practical activities with the child that can help to build the child’s brain architecture.”

They’re developing activities based on Bruce Perry’s “Regulate, Relate and Reason” framework, resources from the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, and the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) “Core Story of Brain Development” resources.

Trauma-informed mentoring is changing BBBS Calgary’s organizational narratives in a few key areas:

  • the WHY of mentoring: because relationships with caring, responsive adults (mentors) can help build brain architecture in kids
  • WHAT responsive mentoring looks like: “Bigs” are responsive to “Littles” when they notice and respond to their verbal and non-verbal cues
  • WHO they mentor: a shift away from “any child who needs a mentor gets a mentor” to “we serve children and youth facing adversity”
  • HOW they mentor: being intentional about training mentors to engage in activities with their mentees that build and strengthen Executive Function and Self-Regulation skills

CALGARY_BBBS_Karen-Orser-Headshot-300x300.jpgKaren, BBBS Calgary’s President and CEO, explains, “The focus on trauma-informed mentoring has given us a new language, new resources, and new ways to think about and talk about what’s going on with kids.” She adds that it has also required on-going conversations with staff, board members, volunteers and funders. Those conversations have raised challenging questions like:

  • Are we getting too clinical?
  • Will volunteers not want to volunteer if we’re talking about brain science?
  • Will it seem too hard [for mentors to incorporate brain research into their day to day interactions with kids]?

Both Karen and Cynthia are relatively new to their positions at BBBS. They had worked together previously at the YWCA, serving people experiencing homelessness, addiction, and mental health challenges. There, they saw how trauma played out in the lives of those clients. And in their first year here at BBBS, they’re working to develop an agency culture that isn’t afraid to take risks and to take a new look at long-established agency practices and policies, making changes when necessary.

BBBS Calgary is breaking new ground for Canada’s national Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, and the national office is talking with Karen and Cynthia about how to incorporate brain science into the standard national training given to all BBBS mentors.

And BBBS Calgary is part of a larger three-year initiative with 15 agencies in Alberta and across the United States called Change in Mind: Applying Neurosciences to Revitalize Communities. Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting with people from CUPS, another of the agencies here in Calgary that’s involved in the Change in Mind initiative. So I’ll post more about Change in Mind as well as CUPS after tomorrow’s meeting.

Karen, Cynthia and their BBBS Calgary team are firmly committed and deeply invested in taking a trauma-informed approach based on the brain research, and they see it as essential to successful intervention with the children and youth they serve in their community. There’s no doubt their investment will reap big benefits for the children, their families, the BBBS mentors, and their entire community.


The Trauma-Informed Communities: Overview-Part 1

The trauma-informed communities I’ll be visiting over the next 3 weeks are:

  • Portland, OR
  • The Dalles, OR
  • Columbia River Gorge, OR
  • Walla Walla, WA
  • Coeur D’Alene, ID
  • Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Here are a few overview tidbits about the Oregon and Washington communities. I’ll post brief overviews about Coeur D’Alene and Calgary later this week, then once I’ve met with the various people in each place, I’ll post separate detailed updates about each community.

Portland, OR: Portland State University is serving as the lead agency for “Trauma-Informed Oregon”, a  statewide collaboration to promote and sustain trauma-informed care across child- and family-serving systems. They started in 2014 and expanded in 2015 to include adult-serving behavioral health systems. Portland State serves as a centralized source of information and resources and coordinates and provides training for healthcare and related systems. They work with state agencies, state and local providers, communities, family and youth organizations, and diverse constituents to bring many voices and perspectives to the table to learn from one another and to advocate for informed policies and practices to promote healing and support well-being for all of Oregon’s children, adults, and families.

The Dalles, OR: Their efforts started in 2008 with a 5-year SAMHSA Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. The grant specified that law enforcement, mental health, juvenile justice and education agencies work together to make schools safer and students healthier.   This city of 13,000 is the first in the nation to seek certification from the Sanctuary Institute— (created by Sandra Bloom at Drexel University), a model of organizational change that challenges every part of the community to examine and remake itself through an understanding of trauma..

Columbia River Gorge, OR: The Multnomah County Department of Community Justice is incorporating a trauma-informed approach into their juvenile & adult criminal justice and reentry systems. While I’m visiting them, I’ll be attending a day-long forum on trauma-informed criminal justice that happened to be scheduled for the same timeframe as my visit!

Walla Walla, WA: Their “Trauma-informed community” effort started in 2008 when local non-profit executive Teri Barila attended a conference where she learned about ACEs. She came back to Walla Walla & organized a community meeting in early 2008 and brought Dr Robert Anda in for a two-and-a-half-hour seminar.  165 people came. Walla Walla is featured in the documentaries “Paper Tigers” and “Resilience”. Walla Walla has a population of 32,000 people. They have 3 colleges, yet one out of four of their children live in poverty, 65% of its residents have not attended college, and gangs and drugs are common.

Again, these are a few initial bits of info. Much more to come! Stay tuned!

What IS a trauma-informed community, anyway?

What is a trauma-informed community? One definition, from The Wilson Foundation, in Rochester, NY, is: “A strategic approach that links all community sectors together around the effects of trauma, while preventing gaps in services for clients.”

But I like this description from an article about Tarpon Springs, Florida, one of the first communities in the US to declare itself a trauma-informed community:

“Being a trauma-informed community means that Tarpon Spring has made a commitment to engage people from all sectors—education, juvenile justice, faith, housing, health care and business—in common goals. The first is to understand how personal adversity affects the community’s well being. The second is to institute resilience-building practices so that people, organizations and systems no longer traumatize already traumatized people and instead contribute to building a healthy community.”

As I visit trauma-informed communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and in Calgary, I’ll likely learn additional definitions. Most of the places I’ll be visiting have been focused on trauma-informed care for 6-8 years or longer. So there will be much we can learn from them.

A few weeks ago, I convened a meeting of 22 people from Community Action Partnership of Lancaster CountySchool District of LancasterCOBYS Family ServicesAssetsLancaster County Community FoundationBenchmark Construction Company, Inc.Advoz: formerly Center for Community PeacemakingLancaster Housing Opportunity PartnershipLancaster County Drug & Alcohol CommissionUnited Way of Lancaster County, PADanene SoraceNorman Bristol Colon for Mayor of Lancaster, and others to discuss how to move toward making Lancaster County a trauma-informed community. I asked for their ideas about what questions to ask and what information to gather from the trauma-informed communities I’ll be visiting. Here are a few of their recommended questions:

  • How have communities used their own local/regional demographics to guide their trauma-informed community initiatives?
  • How have they addressed needs for cultural competency to ensure the broadest possible inclusion of all persons and all stakeholder groups?
  • How did they go about getting buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders and potential funders?
  • What barriers, roadblocks and resistances have they encountered, from whom, and how have they attempted to address these (either successfully or not)?
  • What trauma education approaches, tools, curricula, and other resources have they used? What has worked? Not worked?
  • How are they integrating trauma knowledge into all different sectors of the community? (healthcare, education, human services, community development, housing, juvenile justice, criminal justice, business, faith community, etc).
  • What are the metrics and outcomes they are using to measure and track results of their efforts?

The group provided other input, ideas and insights – and I’ll share more in future blog posts. Meanwhile, feel free to contact me with YOUR ideas and suggestions.

I depart for this 3-week trip on Easter Sunday….stay tuned for more details in upcoming posts.

Brokenness, Judgment, Compassion, and Kinship

One of my heroes, Father Greg Boyle, of Homeboy Industries has said, “The true measure of our compassion lies not in our service to people on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.” This requires a deep understanding and acceptance of our own brokenness or, as one of Father Greg’s “homies,” former gang member Jose, says, ““How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”

My work as Director of the RMO for Returning Citizens is with people who have been wounded in countless ways, by poverty, addiction, mental illness, incarceration, trauma. They are demonized and marginalized by the rest of society. For longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve been operating under the delusion that to serve them effectively, I need to be a pillar of strength and model of someone who has things pretty well figured out.

The core messages of my childhood were: “What’s done is done. No point rehashing the past. Get over it and move on.” “Don’t air your dirty laundry.” “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”  

These messages have steeped me in what Brene Brown calls the “myth of self sufficiency.” In “The Gifts of Imperfection”, she writes, “It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both . . . Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”

I’ve finally come to understand that in my work, I often attach judgment to “helping” people coming out of prison because I have NOT come to a full understanding of my own brokenness and my own need for help.

When I first heard Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame, I identified deeply with her admitted perfectionism and belief in self-sufficiency, her desire to plan, control and avoid vulnerability (aka “weakness”). But when she said her research shows that vulnerability is essential to creativity, joy and authentic connection and that being vulnerable is our most accurate measure of courage, it was a sobering wake-up call for me.

So last summer, I applied for, and was blessed and grateful to receive, a Baldwin Fellowship from the Lancaster County Community Foundation. As part of my Baldwin project, since September, I have been delving deeply into childhood trauma and how it affects connection, health, and mental health.

I’m now preparing for the next major phase of my Baldwin project: a trip to Oregon, Washington and Alberta, Canada, to visit several trauma-informed communities to develop a deeper understanding of how a broad-based, cross-sector “Trauma-Informed Community” approach could fundamentally change our schools, healthcare, community-benefit organizations, justice system, and entire community.

I hope the insights from the trauma-informed communities I visit may help us move toward becoming a trauma-informed community here in Lancaster – a place of true compassion and kinship.

As I prepare for this trip, and throughout my travels, I will be posting updates about what I’m learning along the way – about trauma, brokenness, judgment, compassion, and kinship. So, stay tuned…