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Ann Penn-Charles casts a wide net to reduce generational trauma in Washington State coastal tribes

 

You could say that Ann Penn-Charles, a native of La Push, Washington, was a natural resilience builder even before there was an ACE Study. La Push is a Native American reservation on the western edge of Olympic National Park, where the Quileute Nation ancestors of “Miss Ann”, as she is known, have lived for generations.

Although she faced hardships growing up on the reservation, including having her first child when she was a junior in high school, she was able to graduate with the support of her parents and family. Later, she attended Peninsula College and took online classes to complete an AA while being a full-time parent.

Miss Ann taught at the tribal school, which has about 100 students, for almost 12 years as a paraeducator.

Having learned the Quileute language from her grandmother, Lillian Pullen, she began to teach the tribal language as well as its culture to youth. She says that from an early age, “both my parents instilled the need for education in us.”

Over timethe prolific educator, who was also raising a family of three with her husband, continued to grow her skills and take on new community responsibilities.

She became a language instructor with Head Start, then a community health representative, a fisheries technician, a case worker for Native-American child welfare, and 14 years ago, a certified substance abuse prevention specialist for her tribe.

In 2015, Ann received one of eight Washington State Exemplary Substance Abuse Prevention Awards. In presenting her the award, Lt. Governor Brad Owen captured the intensity and scope of her commitment to the community.

“She goes above and beyond her annual prevention plan each year and is never satisfied with good enough,” he said. “Miss Ann leads a group of youth on an annual substance-free canoe journey, connecting with other coastal tribes to build cultural awareness among youth.” She had also organized a weekly drum circle to honor Quileute tribal traditions, which is still ongoing with other leaders.

As leader of the Oceangoing Canoe Society, a drug and alcohol prevention program, Miss Ann works with tribal members coming out of substance addiction. Some of these tribal members come straight out of treatment, prison or jails. To help develop resilience to these addictions, she says, “We instill our Quileute culture and values.”

Miss Ann’s team also collaborates with the Youth and Family Intervention Program in La Push, which,thanks to her persistence, received a grant from2006 to 2014, and then was covered until the pandemic by TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families)to prevent teen school drop-out rates, teen drinking, and teen pregnancy. The tribal school and Forks school both had a high incidence of underage drinking and drop-out rates as well as teen pregnancy. With the grant, Ann’s collaborative agencies, which included the Hoh tribe, taught life skills to youth at the tribal school as well as the high school in Forks, which most of the tribe’s teens still attend. These skills include financial literacy, sex education, and ways to resist bullying and peer pressure. Empowered with this knowledge, many students were not only able to complete their education but also complete college and achieve financial stability. Graduation rates increased 95%, and if students had moved due to family issues, they were still enrolled in the summer programs and received diplomas after completing required courses. 

The Youth and Family Intervention Program adapted some of the methods for educating people about ACEs science and developing resiliency used at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, which was documented in the film Paper Tigersby James Redfordand in this article, which has had nearly a million page views. That’s because Miss Ann did ACEs training with Community Resilience Initiative instructor Rick Griffith at the same time she received the grant for starting the youth and family program three years ago.

Learning about the science of adverse childhood experiences, says Miss Ann, “was like a light bulb went off. It brought up all kinds of things we were already battling at home.”

“We brought home the ACEs test, and when two of our team got in-depth training, they asked me, ‘Do you know all the work you’re doing around ACEs, you already do this work?’”

Miss Ann followed up by integrating ACEs training into the New Beginnings Crew, a program that addresses domestic violence, as well as into several other programs, including Wellness Court, TANF, Teen Center, and the Blue Shed (for younger children, from ages 5 to 12). She and her team met ACEs Connection Community Facilitator Karen Clemmer three years ago at a training in Pasco, WA, and discovered that they were already implementing many of the trauma and resilience-building practices.

ACEs is a term that comes from a landmark study that showed how widespread childhood adversity is. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experience Study of more than 17,000 adults, which was first published in 1998, linked 10 types of childhood adversity — such as living with a parent who is mentally ill, has abused alcohol or is emotionally abusive — to the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. Many other types of ACEs— including racism, bullying, a father being abused, and community violence — have been added to subsequent ACE surveys.

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 social, economic, health and civic consequences. The study found that most people (64%) have at least one ACE; 12% of the population has an ACE score of 4 or higher. 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. (For more information about how this works and about the full complement of ACEs science, go to ACEs Science 101. To calculate your ACE and resilience scores, go to: Got Your ACE Score?)

A key difference with putting ACEs training into practice within the tribe, Miss Ann points out, is that anyone — a cook, a custodian, and yes, a counselor — can becomea facilitator. To help train others, she and her team made a book from the ACEs resiliencycardsdeveloped by the Children’s Resilience Initiative, and it’s helped all 477 members of the tribe stay resilient during the current COVID-19 crisis.

The New Beginnings team as well as the Youth and Family Intervention team worked with the Forks Coalition to get all the agencies to attend various workshops to get ACEs training. This included ACEs training for the tribal court, the health clinic, housing staff, TANF, ICW, police, and Forks School outreach staff as well as outside coalition members.

In fact, she says that they have not lost anyone due to COVID-19, probably because they initiated a complete lockdown in March of this year, preventing anyone from entering the reservation unless they lived or worked there. The reservation has a medical clinic, a small grocery store, a restaurant (now closed), and the school, which also closed for in-person classes. 

During the past three years, thanks to the Youth and Family Intervention Program, as well as VOC (Victims of Crime), Teen Center, Blue Shed, and the Forks Coalition, drop-out rates as well as teen pregnancies at the tribal school and the Forks high school have declined 90 percent.Underage drinking is still a problem, however. Students having the option of attending summer school to graduate if they have missed some courses. Another factor that helped prevent students from dropping out was a halt the tribe made to “per capita” payments to families for their children until their teens graduated from high school or passed the GED. Indian tribes pay what’s known as a per capita to their members based on income from tribal casino operations.

After the school lockdown this year, all students were given Chromebook laptop computers, access to wifi hot spots, and a personal visit with a teacher once a week. (Student and teacher are separated by a plastic barrier.) Teachers also called their students to make a connection with them during the lockdown. However, the tribal school as well as the Forks high school only conducts ACEs testing with students that are referred to them.

The pandemic lockdown has made it more urgent to support victims of domestic violence, who are forced to stay at home. Alert to this issue, Miss Ann asked her granting agency, the Washington State Health Care Authority, for cell phones so that victims could call for support. Not only was the request granted, the 25 cell phones Ann received were all iPhones, thanks to a gift from Apple.

Miss Ann distributed the iPhones to her coworkers at New Beginnings, to support victims of domestic violence. She also distributed iPhones “to our behavioral health team, our elders group, our victims of crime, our Indian child welfare agencies, our CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocacy program), and to several elders who are living alone.”

For children who need to engage in telemedicine with their counselors and psychologists, the tribe received two laptops, again thanks to Ann’s persistence and relationship with the state’s Health Care Authority. These are set up by socially distanced assistants in a common area with wifi access. 

There’s even more going on in La Push, again thanks to Ann’s initiative and ability to collaborate with virtually every agency and organization that can benefit her community. Every two weeks, the tribe distributes Family Wellness packs, which include coloring books, health care tips, reminders about the census and voter registration, and memos that Ann and her team “brightened up so people would look at them” about other benefits available from food banks, state-paid school lunches, and county-paid incentives that reduce utility costs.

An additional Family Wellness pack includes a cooking kit that might contain ingredients for making “fry” bread, a Native American staple (a recipe is attached). Says Miss Ann, with unbridled enthusiasm, that if you haven’t tried it, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Food is a staple at all of our gatherings,” she says. So, the extra Family Wellness pack that families receive every two weeks might also contain a few cans of beans for making chili, as well as cupcakes, brownies, and Rice Crispy treats.

No doubt, it is Miss Ann’s and her coworkers’ unflagging drive for creating and collaborating on programs to improve the lives of their community and integrating ACEs awareness that are ensuring that the members of the Quileute Nation move from surviving to thriving for generations to come.

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