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Start Your ACEs Initiative!

The information below is a guide for local ACEs initiatives that are just starting out. We’ve gathered do's and don'ts from communities who have launched ACEs initiatives. We want your input so that we can keep improving this guide. 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 other members of ACEs Connection.

Start!

Community ACEs initiatives are often launched 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 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 work groups organized around outreach, communications, or data. Work groups can also be organized around a sector such as education, health, business, etc. These work groups recruit community members to continue to grow the initiative and to replace members as they cycle off. Members can represent organizations or themselves as engaged individuals.

A community can be a neighborhood, town, city, county, region, state or nation.


Inclusion Paves The Way to Success

The most successful ACEs initiatives grow to ensure that every sector and demographic in the community is eventually represented in the main membership. A system to cycle people from different sectors — and especially people from typically under-represented groups — in and out of leadership positions is also critical. This will take time, because people often need to hear about ACEs science several times and learn how it's used in organizations like theirs before they're willing to become involved. ACEs Connection has developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tool to help initiatives achieve this. It's available from your ACEs Connection Community Facilitator and is attached to this post. There's much more information about it in the Grow Your ACEs Initiative! post. Besides listing most sectors in any community, it provides a demographic filter to help identify people and organizations across generations, genders, ethnicities, geographies, in the other-abled community, nations of origin, religions, and economic classes.


Talk, Text, Post. A Lot.

Many community ACEs initiatives launch a community site on ACEsConnection.com. Since initiative participants come from different organizations or represent themselves, they need a central place to communicate. On their site on ACEsConnection.com, they can easily post upcoming events to a central calendar, post meeting minutes and announcements, and organize communications among work groups. They can also track their progress through a Presentations Tracker that is built in to their site. If they're a member of ACEs Connection's  Cooperative of Communities, they can track their progress toward becoming a trauma-informed community through a Community Resilience Tracker. Check the Communities section for communities that have sites on ACEsConnection.com. While many communities also use Facebook as an additional outreach tool to the greater community, their site on ACEsConnection captures the work and the progress of the initiative. Here is a handout that describes reasons to start an ACEs Connection Community.


Who Owns the ACE Initiative? Everybody!

It's important to note that no one organization owns or controls the community ACEs initiative; it is collaborative and includes professionals AND individuals representing themselves or associations or advocacy groups, such as youth organizations or a refugee community. 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 will impede efforts of the entire community — organizations, agencies, businesses, associations and 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), or leaves out individuals in favor of organizations.

What's The Point of an Initiative? Mission, vision, slogans, goals.

At some point, steering committee members and/or other community ACEs champions need to develop a strategic plan to present to the larger community for input and feedback and final integration. Here are some examples of a plan's parts from ACEs Connection communities:  mission statement, vision statement, slogans/tag lines, strategic goals, principles. And attached to this post is an example of a strategic plan from the ACEs initiative in Solano County, CA. Here is an agenda for a strategic planning meeting. Successful communities launch  ACEs science education activities (See the Educate section in the Grow Your ACEs Initiative post) while doing strategic planning. Some communities that decided to focus on a strategic plan only have seen their ACEs initiative stall for up to a year, and people disengaged. Many initiatives that have done strategic plans and other activities at the same time attract ongoing interest and engage more people.

Aim High!

Communities can use the goals to set targets 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 four organizations to adopt ACEs, trauma-informed, and resilience-building principles and practices in two years. See a sample logic model.

It's ALL About Building Relationships.

Most ACEs initiatives convene in person 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. These community meetings become the vehicle for welcoming, educating, inspiring (with stories from its members), and nudging organizations and systems within the community (i.e., school districts, justice system) to become trauma-informed. See some examples of community meeting agendas.

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, the way that school board meetings or city council meetings are. Be open to “uncommon partners” in the work. Tarpon Springs, FL, provides a good example of how a community starts and grows an ACEs initiative. Here's their story: 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. Community meetings can include a presentation at every 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 communities also leave room for sharing what members of the community are doing to increase ACEs science awareness in their organizations or neighborhoods. Most groups leave time for people to network.

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 University, Chula Vista, Sacramento.

The steering committee and subcommittees hold regularly scheduled in-person meetings in a public place (library, city or county government office, etc.), if possible. Move the meetings around to different parts of the community, if possible, and schedule at different times of the day, including in the evening, when most people aren't working. Encourage organizations to take turns providing food.

What Gets Measured, Gets Done.

This is a critical part of showing progress, and includes the number of organizations that have received ACEs science 101 presentations and the number of organizations that have implemented practices based on ACEs science and the results of those changes. All geographic-based communities that join ACEs Connection have a Presentations Tracker embedded in their site. ACEs initiatives that have moved beyond the initial stages of growth can ask their ACEs Connection Community Facilitator about joining the Cooperative of Communities to set up an ACEs Connection Community Tracker to map and measure progress and outcomes in the journey to becoming trauma-informed.  

Walk the talk.

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

Who Has ACEs? Almost Everybody. Who Has Resilience? Everybody!

During the community meetings, some ACEs initiatives offer the membership and opportunity to do their own anonymous 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 to see real time results from people who participate in the survey. Doing these anonymous surveys help the initiative's members understand the ACEs burden in their community, as well as reinforce the reality that no one is alone in having ACEs.


Work It.
 

As members become more committed to ACEs initiative, the next step is for all who participate to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building policies and practices based on ACEs science in their households, associations, places of worship, other community groups 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 and individual spelled out its commitment.) MOUs can provide guidance for organizations and individuals to have a shared understanding of the goals and purpose of the community ACEs initiative.


Help Each Other.

Identify potential local resources — local in-kind contributions of meeting space, funds for lunch 'n learns, printing materials, etc. This article explains how the Arizona ACEs consortium used local resources: Arizona ACEs Consortium spreads awareness, influences prevention of childhood trauma.

Apply to local or regional foundations for local 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.

Decide whether to seek large-scale funding from state or national foundations or state or federal government 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.


Avoid the Pitfalls.

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. Individuals who represent themselves or associations need to be included as equals.

In addition, be careful about receiving 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 that are starting out need just small amounts of funding to help sponsor events, print materials, fund a part time assistant to help support the activities of the initiative. This helps them grow to a level where they are in a position to use larger amounts of funding, instead of being stymied by it. 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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Use this guide to ensure that every sector and demographic in the community is represented.

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The ACEs Connection Inclusionary Tool spreadsheet is a fantastic resource whether you are supporting an ongoing initiative, or just starting out.

People from different organizations all know their systems and how they work, and current practices and capacity. They do, and will, recognize where there may be areas of opportunity to integrate knowledge and new practices into their existing work.
This resource is so comprehensive that it would be a rare community initiative with capacity to engage all of these roles but this is a great menu of options to use. You will recognize where your greatest community strengths lie - and where there are existing relationships that make it easy to connect. I've found that a casual invitation can result in incredible, unexpected outcomes. Organizational leaders and staff are the experts, and the more who are engaged, the greater the outcomes.   
This tool may spark an idea that hadn't crossed your mind, and those casual invitations may yield some of the greatest passion and enthusiasm.  
- Sara Merz, MBA, founded and led the award-winning ACEs Resilience in Wake County Initiative, which garnered national recognition. Sara now helps communities build their own campaigns and partnerships to improve people's lives, focusing on ACEs and other issues. Reach her at saraorlean@gmail.com or 919-368-3418.

This is what I’ve been looking for....for years! I left Shelby County ,TN Juvenile Court heartbroken after three years of witnessing the effects of(now I can name it - ACE’s). I had to find like minds and help that lost, thrown away and forgotten population. In my heart I knew it could be done-identify those at risk, assess their need and intervene as early as possible by possibly placing qualified mental health professionals in schools. I enrolled at the University of Mississippi to finish my prerequisites to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, figured I needed more letters behind my name to get others to listen to me.  I had a brilliant instructed in Developmental Psychology who again sparked this passion, but-as fate would have it and something I am all too familiar with in my own personal life-trauma derailed those goals. Fate intervened again tho!!!! By following local news in Mississippi, after having moved across country for a fresh start, I read an article about a former FBI agent/Head of Dept of Human Services executive that was retiring. He made comments that resonated with me and I was introduced to ACE’s. One day last week, reading a blog entry from this gentleman brought me directly to this site and I discovered an entire community of like minds!!  I finally found what I’ve been looking for. Now I want to read everything, become an “expert” and advocate from the highest hill to advocate for the implementation of trauma informed care. Sign me up.

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