Greater Kansas City first responders, educators, health care workers, sports & faith community embrace learning about childhood trauma, practicing resilience

In a video on the Resilient KC website, police officer Mikki Cassidy notes that “my regular day is everybody else’s worst day.” Then she describes how mindfulness training has helped her find peace amid the clamor: “This moment, right here, I’m okay.”

Later in the clip, Sonia Warshawski, a Holocaust survivor, recalls being shoved onto a train to Treblinka and, later, losing her mother to the gas chamber. “One of my highest points is when I speak in schools, when students tell me, ‘You changed my life,’” she says.

And Josiah Hoskins, a youth raised in foster care, talks about the mantra that helped him survive: “Even if all you have is yourself, with a wall behind you and the world coming at you, you can make peace with yourself.”

The video concludes with four words—“Stories Matter. What’s yours?”—and an invitation for others to share experiences of adversity and healing.

Awareness on Both Sides of the State Line

The campaign is just one prong of Kansas City’s multi-sector effort to raise awareness about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and build resilience on both sides of the state line. Resilient KC — a partnership between the pre-existing Trauma Matters Kansas City (TMKC) network and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce — has worked to cultivate “ambassadors” who can bring the ACEs message to colleagues, clients and community members in business, the armed services, education, justice and health care.

ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that harm children’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later; they cause much of the U.S. and the world’s chronic disease, most mental illness, and are at the root of most violence.

The CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), a groundbreaking public health study, discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.

The ACE Study looked at 10 types of childhood trauma: physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; living with a family member who’s addicted to alcohol or other substances or who’s depressed or has other mental illnesses; experiencing parental divorce or separation; having a family member who’s incarcerated, and witnessing a mother being abused. Other subsequent ACE surveys include racism, witnessing violence outside the home, bullying, losing a parent to deportation, living in an unsafe neighborhood, and involvement with the foster care system. Other types of childhood adversity can also include being homeless, living in a war zone, being an immigrant, moving many times, witnessing a sibling being abused, witnessing a father or other caregiver being abused, involvement with the criminal justice system, attending a zero-tolerance school, etc.

The ACE Study found that the higher someone’s ACE score – the more types of childhood adversity a person experienced – the higher their risk of chronic disease, mental illness, violence, being a victim of violence and a bunch of other consequences. The study found that most people (64%) have an ACE score of one; 12% of the population has an ACE score of 4. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and cancer. It increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent. (Here’s more information about ACEs science. Got Your ACE Score? ….and resilience score.)

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April the Giraffe: An unplanned social experiment and what we can learn from it

Viral videos are not new. Every few weeks, something will be posted in a forum such as YouTube or Facebook; a few friends will share the video with one another, and then suddenly, that video is being watched by millions. The most recent viral video takes this to a new level. April the Giraffe was not just a video, it was a live camera streaming online, allowing viewers to watch a pregnant giraffe and ultimately watch the birth of her calf.

So, what makes the viral giraffe cam different than other viral videos? The answer is simple: the length of the video. Instead of a clip lasting several minutes, April was streaming live for days, and then weeks. And people were tuning in consistently, day after day, for hours at a time — that was new. April delivered a healthy baby boy calf on Saturday, April 15, 2017. On April 17, Good Morning America estimated that more than 1.2 million viewers watched the birth live on their computers or mobile devices.  Jordan Patch, the owner of Animal Adventure Park, estimates that more than 300 million people viewed April the Giraffe since the park installed the live camera.

So what is it about this giraffe that captured the attention of so many people from all over the world? The answer might surprise you. While it is true that people first watched April because they were hoping to see the birth of her baby, 82% of survey respondents stated that seeing the birth was initially why they started watching. The reason they continued to watch might give us some insights into a societal issue that impacts many of our older, retired, or disabled friends and neighbors. There are a large number of people who lack connections with family, neighbors, and/or peers, and the result is a feeling of isolation and ultimately, loneliness.

I’ll start my explanation by sharing a little bit of information about myself because I think it helps to put my theory into perspective. I am a 48-year-old divorced woman, with two grown children who live on their own. I have two cats, a dog, and I am currently disabled as a result of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I do not socialize with anyone in person. I rarely leave my house except for counseling and doctor appointments. The last time I attempted to go grocery shopping, I walked out leaving my cart in the middle of the produce section because I had a flashback and I could not keep my brain grounded in reality; the fear was too strong and my fight or flight instincts had taken over.  Flight won.

I started watching April the Giraffe because I was curious. Her story had been highlighted by media outlets on, or about, February 22. When I started watching the Facebook Live Feed, it was through the CBS Denver station. At CBS Denver I found that there were thousands of other individuals all “chatting” about the expectant calf. There was something very calming about watching April. And there was something reassuring about finding so many other people doing the same thing I was doing. While I did not realize it at first, what I had found was a place where I could just be me; I could be isolated and connected at the same time. I could engage in a discussion if I wanted to or I could just watch the conversations unfold from others. I wasn’t alone. 59% of survey respondents said that they continued watching because they appreciated knowing that others were doing the same thing they were doing at the same time. 64% said that they would have watched even if April wasn’t pregnant, which indicates that they were not watching because of the finale (the birth), they were watching for some other experience.

Over time, the conversations shifted, the people who were chatting varied from hour to hour, but there was a level of consistency that made me feel safe in a social arena; that is hard to find when you can’t leave your house.

Two weeks ago, on the CBS Denver Facebook Live Feed, I chatted with a few women in the United Kingdom who were talking about going outside to hang their clothes on the line to dry. They also talked about how they iron all of their clothes with the exception of their knickers. We discussed the value of the clothes dryer in the United States, and how irons were in our homes, but how we couldn’t recall the last time we had pulled them out. Last week, I had a conversation with a group of people about what everyone was cooking for dinner. That discussion led to exchanging of recipes, and a new group was created on Facebook, April’s World Wide Recipes. I also participated in conversations about health, welfare, children, and pets. And when there was a terrorist attack in London, a missile strike in Syria, and a shooting in an elementary school, the April-viewing community mourned and shared the loss together with thought and prayers, and after some period of time, supportive words to help others see more than just the pain in the world, but also the joy of a shared experience. All of these experiences reminded me of a time before the Internet, of being young and watching my mom sit on the front steps with others moms in the neighborhood, as they talked and laughed while their children played together. The world seemed infinitely smaller, and safer, than it does today. And the connection to others appeared to be more available than they are now.

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Putting resilience and resilience surveys under the microscope


“Resilience is a message of hope,” says Debbie Alleyne, a child welfare specialist at the Center for Resilient Children at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, located in Villanova, PA.“It is important for everyone to know that no matter their experience, there is always hope for a positive outcome. Risk does not define destiny.”

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Building human resilience for climate change addressed at Washington, DC, conference


The missing piece in the response to climate disruption—preparing humans to cope with the trauma and toxic stress it causes—was the focus of a recent Conference on Building Human Resilience for Climate Change sponsored by the International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC). About a hundred mental health professionals, emergency response and disaster management officials, and others from education and faith communities gathered in Washington, DC. Continue reading

Congressional briefing addresses public policy to improve response to ACEs

Room view with Senators Heitkamp & Durbin.jpg

In the final weeks of the 114th Congress, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) welcomed her colleague Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) as a new host for the third and final briefing on addressing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The December 1 briefing focused on public policies to improve coordination, prevention and response to childhood trauma.

ACEs comes from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and subsequent surveys that show that most people in the U.S. have at least one ACE, and that people with an accumulation of childhood adversities — including divorce, racism, living with an alcoholic parent, and physical abuse — have a higher risk of adult onset of chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism.

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I’m not cured, but I am healing

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

More than 133 million American adults — one in two of us — suffer from a chronic condition, including autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, migraines, back pain, depression, diabetes, cancer and chronic pain. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s are twice as likely as our parents were to suffer from debilitating chronic conditions in middle age.

I’m one of those statistics. I’ve spent much of the past decade navigating my life around health crises. Twice I’ve been paralyzed by Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease similar to multiple sclerosis, but with a more sudden onset and a wider array of possible outcomes. Other diagnoses — low blood cell counts, thyroiditis and the need for a pacemaker — have also complicated my health and my life.

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A memoir about surviving ACEs


I became a professional reader long before I was a writer when I was living in homeless shelters, subsidized housing, and welfare hotels with my mother in New York City.

Most of the middle class and affluent black folks I would come to know in the future would wince and give me a look I couldn’t read when I would tell the story that I outline in my new memoir, The Beautiful Darkness: A Handbook for Orphans. All some intolerant, ignorant bigots need is to continue to hear about the dysfunction of black families or the lie that we are all poor (living in inner cities) and broken and hopeless. But unfortunately, in my case, the dysfunction was just part of what I lived through as a kid.

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