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PACEs Connection: Not just another social network


At last week’s fabulous HOPE Summit, one person told me that they didn’t realize all the things that PACEs Connection does. They thought it was just another run-of-the-mill social network: Sign up, make a pledge, read a news feed, get a steady stream of the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences.

PACEs Connection is much more intricate, powerful and wonderful!

When I started ACEs Connection in 2012 with and, my intention was to let people know about the amazing ways that people were using the science of childhood adversity — in schools, healthcare, social services, business, etc. — and to connect people who were using ACEs science with others who were doing similar or related work., a news site for the general public, was a no-brainer to launch and grow; I’m a long-time science, health & technology journalist, so I can write articles in my sleep.

What's ACEsConnection going to be??? was more of a mystery. I’d learned from doing two other social networks that the community decides what it will be, and I occasionally wondered what that would look like. In 2013, the number of members reached about 1,000. A few communities, geographic and interest-based, had been created, but we were still basically in a place of educating people about this amazing new knowledge.

One afternoon, I listened to an interview that Bill Moyers did with Marshall Ganz, who was a community organizer with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers for 16 years. What Ganz said electrified me: Social change comes through social movements whose participants build relationships, have shared stories, develop a structure, strategy and take action.


In retrospect, that notion shouldn’t have been a surprise.

What we’d been doing since 2012 felt right. But now there was a method, an intentionality. We’d already been telling stories, many of which had tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of readers — a handful had millions — that spread this new knowledge far and wide. We had developed a resource center and put together GIS maps that showed which states had done ACE surveys and what ACEs and trauma-informed legislation had been passed. We connected people with each other many times a day. We gave presentations about ACEs science to whomever would listen.

Communities are the key

But the communities on ACEsConnection were the key to growing this movement. For the first year, anyone who was inclined to do so could start a community site on ACEs Connection with no guidance. Some people started a few with enthusiasm, but then participation often petered out. After learning about Marshall Ganz’ work, I realized that structure and strategy was important not just in how ACEs Connection was put together, but how the communities were structured and guided, too. This led to an understanding of how ACEs Connection, now PACEs Connection, functioned in the ever-growing ACEs, now PACEs, movement.

More than 400 communities comprise PACEs Connection now, each with their own community site that mirrors the structure of PACEs Connection. They have their own members who build relationships, share their own stories and resources, develop their own local strategy, and take their own actions in the form of presentations, events, adding more members, tracking growth and celebrating progress through their own storytelling.

And yet, we’re all united in the same goal: We want every individual and organization in every community in the U.S. and the world to learn about the promise and power of this new knowledge of PACEs science to integrate it in their individual, organizational and community lives, and especially to encompass this knowledge in diversity, equity and inclusion. And if we do this, we can actually solve problems that most people don’t think we can ever solve. Using this knowledge, pioneers are actually already solving our most intractable problems, in many places around the world.

Many schools have stopped suspending and expelling students, whose grades, test scores and sense of well being has improved. A health clinic in Pueblo, Colorado, saw a 30 percent drop in visits to the emergency room. A juvenile diversion program in Philadelphia reduced arrests from 1600 to 500 in three years. In San Diego, during the first year of a juvenile detention facility built to be trauma-informed from the ground up, there were no violent incidents whatsoever. After one year, family courts that integrated the Safe Babies Courts approach saw 99 percent of the kids suffer no further abuse. A family physician in Tennessee who treats people addicted to opioids showed that 99 percent of his patients were able to hold down a job, which is the best indicator of healing. Within 24 to 48 hours after a person recovers from an opioid overdose in Plymouth County, MA, a police officer visits and offers to take them to a rehab facility right then and there. And then says, “How about I treat you to dinner on the way?” Opioid deaths in the county dropped 26 percent, while in the surrounding counties, death rates increased 84%. A batterer intervention program in Bakersfield, CA, saw recidivism rates fall from 60 percent to six percent. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation found that staff turnover declined from 21 percent to just 10 percent. In Cowlitz County, WA, youth suicide and suicide attempts dropped 98 percent.

We've got the knowledge; all it takes is the will

There’s nothing stopping any community from integrating all of these approaches, across sectors. We have the knowledge, now we need the will to put permanent policies in place so that we don’t go backwards, as some organizations and communities have, unfortunately. That’s a story for another time.

There’s one other vital aspect of growing a community-of-practice social network, which is what PACEs Connection is. In 2016, I was introduced to Jane Wei Skillern and her work around the four network principles for network success:

— Focus on mission before organization.
— Manage through trust, not control.
— Promote others, not yourself.
— Build constellations, not stars.

Thanks to Skillern’s tutelage, we’ve incorporated those principles into PACEs Connection, and encourage PACEs initiatives to incorporate them, too.

And out of this wisdom and experience of others, we have developed our long-term goals. We plan to grow our network to 1,000 communities by the end of 2023, and 5,000 by the end of 2025. At that point, we’ll be approaching the magic number where communities start integrating this knowledge on their own; the benefits — saved lives, healthy lives, remarkable cost savings for city, county and state budgets — of doing this work won’t require much explanation or convincing. (There are 34,000 cities and counties in the U.S. The magic number is about 8,500, according to some good science about how social networks grow and reach a tipping point.)

Earlier this year, we launched the PACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities for the more mature PACEs initiatives that need tools such as how to measure their progress and track their outcomes; training in diving deep deep deep into how to be anti-racist and inclusive; learning collaboratives on how to be an effective network leader; and working together to share resources and knowledge to guide the movement and accelerate its progress. (If you want more information about the Coop, contact Ingrid Cockhren on our team —

After just three months of gathering the cooperative affiliates, we know that we’re on the right track. Each meeting the collaborative has held has been incredibly inspirational; the actions the affiliates are taking in their own communities are remarkable, and are already making significant, healthy and, we hope, lasting changes.

ACEs Connection started with just two people: a part-time graphic designer and me. Now, there are 18 remarkable people, plus three part-time people, all of whom are dedicated to this amazing movement that provides knowledge that has affected the lives of millions of people already. We’re in it for the long haul. Powered by all of us in this extraordinary social network (51,204 as of this writing), we’re going for billions.   


If you'd like to learn more about, check out one or both of these upcoming webinars:

Monday, April 26th, 2021

1:00pm -2:00 pm PDT
Welcome to PACEs Connection: Overview of our website and ways to engage -- for new and current members
led by Alison Cebulla
Click here to register in advance!

Monday, May 10th, 2021

1:00pm -2:00 pm PDT
Starting a PACEs Initiative in Your Community
led by Alison Cebulla
Early Registration is available!

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