Organizing Your ACEs Initiative: Steps to Growing A Resilient Community

The information below is to be used as guidance for how local ACEs initiatives can structure and organize themselves. We’ve gathered this information from experiences in communities and on ACEs Connection; we've pulled examples of things that work & lessons learned along the way. We want your input — in the comments section, please share with us things we have missed, examples of what’s working for you, and any lessons you have learned and would like to share with the members of ACEs Connection.

 Organization and Structure of Community ACEs Initiatives

Getting Started: To get started with your community ACEs initiative, often it is driven by a small group of enthusiastic people who make time to meet monthly, who begin to incorporate this work into their job descriptions or their focused volunteer efforts, and who drive the initial effort — these folks usually  form the Steering Committee.  Here is a sample agenda for Steering Committee meetings. The Steering Committee plans large community meetings (more on those below), and creates subcommittees or workgroups organized around an overarching topic such as communications, outreach or data, or organized around a sector such as education, health and wellness, early childhood, etc. These workgroups recruit community members to support their efforts.

Communications: Many community ACEs initiatives create a group email (Google groups is an easy way to do this) to encourage communication throughout the Steering Committee and workgroups. We also encourage communications through your ACEs Connection Community site (if you don’t have one yet, here is a handout that describes reasons to start an ACEs Connection Community).  On your AC community site you can share announcements about upcoming events, post summaries of meeting minutes, create community specific discussion topics, and send private messages to your community's members. 

Cross-Sector Representation:  Strive for every sector in the community to be represented in the ACEs initiative through cross-sector, collaboration and integration on the steering committee and especially in the large group. This may take time, because leaders and organizations within each sector often need information from multiple sources about ACEs, trauma, and resilience and to see examples of what this means in organizations like theirs before they are ready for their organization to commit to the process of becoming trauma-informed. In thinking about what organizations should be recruited to join the learning community, be sure that you use a lens to look across faultlines such as across generations, genders, ethnicities, geographies, and economic classes. Contact an ACN Community Facilitator for access to the ACEs Connection Community Outreach by Sector and Subsector tool.

ACE Initiative Ownership: It's important to note that no one organization owns or controls the community ACEs initiative; it is collaborative and includes both professionals and community members. The risk of having any one organization own this — e.g. a local health department leads the effort and controls who joins the group — is that it may impede efforts of the entire community — organizations, agencies, businesses or individuals — to become trauma-informed. Each entity needs to proceed at its own pace, instead of a pace set by a "lead" organization. Also, if one organization is seen as the lead, there may be a perception that the initiative is focused only on that one population or sector within the community (ie., foster care).

Develop your mission, vision, slogans, goals. Steering committee members or other community ACEs champions often take part in a strategic planning process that drives the development of broad goals and bring draft language back to the larger community for input and feedback. Here are some examples from AC communities:  mission statement, vision statement, slogans/tag lines, strategic goals, principles.  Here is an agenda for a strategic planning meeting. You don't have to delay your education activities while doing strategic planning; many communities have done them at the same time, which attracts more interest and engages more people from the community.   

Community target setting: Communities can use the goals to set targets and goals for themselves, such as….500 ACEs science 101 presentations to organizations in the community over two years, one ACEs science 101 presentation in each sector of the community by year's end, and/or four organizations to adopt ACEs, trauma-informed, and resilience-building principles and practices in two years. See sample logic model.

Create opportunities to meet in-person.  The steering committee and subcommittees form the nexus of a large group of participants that evolves as more people in the community join the efforts to become trauma-informed and create healing communities. To create the sense of community, we strongly encourage holding regularly scheduled large group in-person meetings set in advance.  The in-person meetings, often referred to as “community meetings”, become the vehicle for welcoming, educating, inspiring (with stories from its members), and nudging organizations and systems within the community (ie., school districts, justice system) to become trauma-informed.  See some examples of community meeting agendas.

Community Meeting Structure.  Most ACEs initiatives convene in person either monthly or quarterly and are open to anyone in the community.  Some communities find a monthly meeting, same place, same time, works well for consistency.  (ie., 2nd Tuesday of the month from 4:00-5:30 at same place).  Also be sure to enter the meeting time in your calendar on your community site on ACEs Connection, and encourage all members to add the event to their calendars. See Helpful Tips for directions on how to do this. Over time, the goal is to have these community meetings be recognized on the public community meeting calendar, such as school board meetings or city council meetings. Be open to “uncommon partners” in the work. An example: Tarpon Springs, FL, first trauma-informed city, embraces messy path toward peace.

Many ACEs initiatives start their meetings with a mindful moment — as a way of modeling and practicing — techniques that demonstrate and support being trauma-informed. Many community meetings include a presentation at every meeting to draw people to the meeting. Examples of presentations include highlighting a trauma-informed organization from the community, focusing on a topic of interest to the community, having a panel of representatives addressing different aspects of creating a trauma-informed system such as education, juvenile justice, etc. Many groups also leave room for sharing what members of the community are doing around ACEs science awareness and trauma-informed practice, and most groups leave time for community networking opportunities. 

Many ACEs initiatives sponsor events, trainings, documentary screenings, and presentations as a way to raise awareness about ACEs science, get the word out about the ACEs initiative in the community and as a way to create opportunities for bonding as a group.  Some examples from across the country: Kansas City, Metro State UniversityChula VistaSacramento.

Gathering local data.  This is a critical part of showing progress, and includes the number of organizations that have had ACEs science 101 presentations and the number of organizations that have implemented practices based on ACEs science and the results of those changes. Ask an ACEs Connection Community Facilitator to set up an ACEs Connection Community Tracker for your community to map and measure this progress.  

Walk the talk.  It's important that all of these groups within the ACEs initiative — the community group, steering committee, working groups — integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices into their structure. Some offer ACEs science trainings at every large group meeting; some offer community trainings at regularly scheduled times monthly. Many groups embed mindful moments into every meeting.

Conducting ACEs & Resilience Surveys.  During the community meetings, some ACEs initiatives offer the membership and opportunity to do their own ACE surveys and resilience surveys. Community members can fill out the ACE survey and a resilience survey on paper. Or they can create a digital survey using online software (we at ACN use Poll Everywhere to conduct online ACEs & Resilience surveys anonymously and see real time results from the audience).  Audience members can do the surveys anonymously and tally them to determine the group’s average ACE score, as well as how each question compares to the original ACE Study results, or some other community.

Personal and Organizational Commitment.  As members become more committed within your ACEs initiative, the next step is for all who participate to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building policies and practices in their households and workplaces, with an understanding that each person and organization moves at its own pace. People who formally join the ACEs initiative can make a commitment to help their organizations become trauma-informed.  (See the memorandum of understanding from the Children's Resilience Initiative in Walla Walla, WA, and note how each organization spelled out its commitment.) MOUs can provide guidance for member organizations to have a shared understanding of the goals and purpose of the community ACEs initiative.

Resources

Local resources. Identify potential resources— local in-kind contributions of meeting space, funds for lunch 'n learns, printing materials, etc.  Arizona ACEs Consortium spreads awareness, influences prevention of childhood trauma

Local funding. Apply to local or regional foundations for initial funding, but don’t stop if you don’t get funding. Many, many  communities, such as Tarpon Springs, FL, and Arizona have gone a very long way without it. Some ACEs initiatives have partnered with local well known NGOs in town which can act as a fiscal agency for the initiative. 

Large-scale funding. Decide whether to seek large-scale funding from the state or federal government, or from foundations to support the community effort and its work. Communities that have done so include The Dalles, OR, and Walla Walla, WA. You may want to start small with a local grant but as your efforts grow, you may look to apply for state, federal or national foundation funding as well. This is also an opportunity to increase awareness and garner support.

Some words of warning about funding pitfalls. Just as was noted above that no one organization owns or controls the ACEs initiative; it is important that if an agency represents the initiative and acts as the fiscal sponsor, it is not seen as the lead agency that sets the pace and focus of the community initiative. Just as backbone agencies in the Collective Impact model support the community initiative, any fiscal agency needs to represent the cross-sector initiative comprising community professionals and community members, seen as equals.

In addition, be careful about too much funding too quickly. Funding often comes with deliverables, activities, expectations that may be different and at a different pace than the community initiative. We have found that many community initiatives need just small pots of funding to help sponsor events, print materials, fund a part time assistant to help support the activities of the initiative. Again, it is important that no one organization owns or controls the learning community; it is collaborative and includes both professionals and community members and any funding support supports the entire community. 

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