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COLLABORATION, GRASSROOTS ENGAGEMENT, FOCUS MODEL POWERFUL COMBINATION

 
In June, a group of Crawford County residents who are active participants in local work to create a trauma-informed community had the opportunity to attend a six-day workshop in Pittsburgh led by Reverend Paul Abernathy. Reverend Abernathy is the Director of FOCUS Pittsburgh and is part of a coalition that is leading the way in trauma-informed community development (TICD). We were joined by other groups from across the country including folks from PetersburgVirginiaRichmond, Virginia, Kansas City, Missouri, IndianapolisIndiana, and PittsburghPennsylvania.
 
Last month, Bruce Harlan wrote in this column about the Peace4Crawford movement, "which is about improving the health and well-being of communities through trauma-informed approaches." The TICD model will be a powerful tool in helping to advance and expand this work.
 

The TICD model is about establishing and promoting resilient and healing communities so that the people in the communities are healthy enough to sustain opportunity and realize their potential. We often work with individuals who struggle to hold onto a job or maintain housing. We see them repeatedly losing these opportunities. Why? They cannot sustain these opportunities because they are not healthy enough. They have experienced repeated, sustained and unaddressed trauma that limits their ability to grow and lead productive lives for themselves and their families. 

 Many of us understand and recognize individual traumatic experiences like domestic and sexual violence, bullying, emotional abuse, and neglect. But we may be less familiar and knowledgeable about the impact of trauma at the community level. While our community trauma may look different than that in Pittsburgh, it’s there, and it impacts our community, both today and in the future. Often communities experience “hidden” acts of violence that many of us do not see or experience or even think of as violence. These can be considered adverse community environments and include things like a lack of affordable and safe housing, racism, classism, systemic discrimination, and limited access to social and economic mobility. Over the years and generations they compound one another creating a culture that actually reinforces unhealthy behaviors. So where do we start?

 The work of trauma-informed community development begins with an area called a micro-community. So what is a micro-community? A micro-community is a small area defined by a combination of geography, social relationships, shared assets and challenges. A micro-community could be a block in Meadville, 15 neighbors over 20 miles in Saegertown or members of a church congregation in Titusville.

 The micro-communities are identified using local information about neighborhood challenges and resources. Local staff called behavioral health community organizers (BHCO) will then help to better understand individuals and families in the micro-community using a variety of methods. The BHCO is someone who reflects the values, culture and history of the community in which he or she serves, who is trained to build resilience and facilitate healing through empowerment and connection in the micro-community.

 The BHCO works with local community members and other partners to establish a detailed plan for improving health, economic opportunity, the physical environment, and to build leadership to assure a self-sustaining approach going forward. Over time the plan is implemented, progress is measured and assessed. As goals are met in the first micro-community, the approach can then be expanded to the next small area or micro-community. Eventually, the goal is to create a web of small areas where people are improving their health, the health of the area and embracing a range of economic opportunities.

 As our community competency continues to grow, it might be time to consider what the next steps are in our work. Two years ago, My Meadville entered into a listening process with the goal of grassroots action steps rooted in the values and needs of our community. This model engaged residents in effective and authentic relationships and continues to inform the way we make change in our community.

 At the same time, Peace4Crawford began five years ago to develop trauma-informed communities throughout the county, engaging system partners in education and supportive interventions to increase awareness and change practices, particularly among service providers, to understand, prevent and respond to trauma. And for the past two years, Courageous Conversations has expanded the conversation about trauma into the community with the participation of local clergy, law enforcement and social activists to gain a better understanding of community adversity and its impact. The work of these and other organizations and individuals across the community are significant assets to focus our trauma-informed community development efforts on in the micro-community. We believe that the cross system collaboration, grassroots engagement/listening, and implementation of the FOCUS Pittsburgh model are a powerful combination to focus and realize the objectives of our local efforts in community development and trauma-informed care.

 If you’re interested in learning more or being part of the movement, check out Peace4Crawford’s website and resource library at www.peace4crawford.org

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