Southeastern ACEs Connection and national CTIPP leaders on the quarterly leader call welcomed guest speaker Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz (top left) for their quarterly call. Also among those present were (top row l-r) Carey Sipp, Jesse Kohler, Jesse Hardin, (second row, l-r) Patti Tiberi, Mebane Boyd, Jen Drake-Croft, Dan Press, (third row, l-r) Mimi Graham, Christopher Freeze, Margaret Stagmeier, (fourth row, l-r) Emily Marsh, Liz Peterson, Alyssa Koziarski and Janet Pozmantier. Also present was Caitlin LaVine. Dorothy Oppenheiser was among those calling in for the meeting.
Learning ways to help people walk out of the trauma of multi-generational poverty and abuse to create their own destinies and build new lives, representatives from 10 Southeastern states met last week to hear inspiring remarks from a formerly impoverished mom of three sons.
Participants on the ACEs Connection/CTIPP Southeastern Leaders call also updated the group about work being done in their states.
Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz, who transformed her own life and is now an educational and poverty consultant, was the educational speaker. Dan Press, general counsel for CTIPP (the Campaign for Trauma Informed Policy and Practice), said his “mind was blown” by Lewis-Pankratz’s story and methodology for helping people leave behind generational poverty and trauma.
“What you are saying is revolutionary,” he said. “All lobbyists in (Washington) D.C. will grit their teeth when they hear this. They say people whose brains are disabled by poverty aren’t going to be able to get out of poverty.”
Walking families out of poverty
Lewis-Pankratz’s story mesmerized those on the call, as they heard her explain the impact of trusting, stable relationships on her growth. She talked about living with three little boys in a $1,000 mobile home “that should have been condemned” as she struggled to complete a four-year degree and keep her kids in diapers.
“That trailer was what stood between me and homelessness. I’d been working nights as a bartender and had been in college almost a decade to get a degree and become a high school art teacher. I’d been clean and sober for about seven months, but bone-crushing poverty kept spinning me back,” she said.
Things started shifting when Lewis-Pankratz went to a church for some free diapers.
“A lady there took a shine to me. I told her I wanted to give back so other moms could get the same help. She pointed to a flyer about a class on getting out of poverty and I asked her what they could teach me that I was not already doing. But I figured this lady had been giving me free diapers so I had better sign up.
“When I bumped up against people working to get people out of generational poverty, my world changed. I got a position at that nonprofit,” she said. Later, she left to start a ministry of her own.
“In college I learned about the science of brain architecture – that by five your brain is set. Zero to five years was not good for me. And I had a strong history of using alcohol and drugs. But I got involved in this nonprofit that was really intentional about building relationships between people in poverty and middle-class people as a way of helping poor people get out of poverty.
“So I was surrounded by middle-class women supporting me. And I began to see a way forward, to feel less reactive, to be able to walk into large groups of people. I realized something was happening to my brain,” Lewis-Pankratz said.
She explained that in looking at the brain science of poverty and the brain science of trauma, “the pictures of the brains are the same. The brain doesn’t know whether it is in war or abuse, the brain is just stressed.”
Families in poverty “are always in toxic stress, always spending more time in survival,” she said.
“I have eight ACEs and my mom has nine,” Lewis-Pankratz said. “I was working with 35 families and all but one had high ACEs scores. When I fell into the science of resilience, I found my brain healing at the age of 37, and it was because of relationships people had created for me before they knew me. The science of resilience became my hope, as I learned it was all about relationships,” she said.
Over the last nine years, Lewis-Pankratz has helped teachers and administrators in hundreds of schools learn about ACEs and brain science. She has personally nurtured trusting relationships to help 90 families walk out of poverty.
Carey Sipp, Southeastern Community Facilitator for ACEs Connection, noted that there were two people on the call whose work is about stabilizing families by building trust and relationships. She connected Lewis-Pankratz in Kansas to Margaret Stagmeier, who started a revolutionary “edu-housing” program in Georgia, saying she looked forward to seeing what these two innovative thinkers can do together to provide traumatized people with opportunities to become stable, and improve the lives of their children and themselves.
“When people know stability and safety, when they are in relationship with people who have middle-class lives, who will help them gain confidence in themselves, we are preventing trauma, healing trauma, building resilience,” Sipp said. “I look forward to the day all communities are consciously doing this kind of work.”
Others on the call shared these updates from their states:
Emily Marsh, public and governmental affairs manager at the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect, reported that the state’s mental health grant in Alabama has been extended through 2021.
The Department of Mental Health funded training on trauma-informed care, ACEs science, strengthening families, and protective factors at home. she said. Her group did 22 trainings from June-September, and next year will target workers in mental health as well as teachers, law enforcement and counselors.
Marsh said the Department of Mental Health had been complimentary of the work done. “We will continue to partner with the Alabama Network of Family Resources, so this is good news.”
Mimi Graham, Ph. D., director of The Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy at Florida State University, said that she and Andy Blanch, Ph.D, president and director of the Center for Religious Tolerance, will speak next May on CTIPP’s national call about a new tool, created in Florida, for trauma assessments.
“There are agencies that say they are trauma informed, but they are separating breastfeeding moms from babies, or children from parents. This new tool for trauma assessment of agencies (reviewing agencies in person in addition to other assessments) will help agencies become more trauma informed,” Graham said.
Resilient Georgia’s executive director Emily Anne Vall, Ph.D. was not on the call but she sent a report outlining highlights of work going on in the state. She said the eight Resilient Georgia regional grantees are doing fantastic work in their communities.
They are currently meeting with stakeholders from across the state to identify partners that can work together to create action plans for their next two rounds of grantees.
“The Resilient Georgia Trauma Informed Training Road Map is up and running, and available for all states to peruse. A copy of the survey they sent out that informed this work is on this webpage, too,” Vall wrote.
Margaret Stagmeier, founder and board chair of Star-C, a nonprofit working to stabilize rents and transiency in workforce housing communities, spoke briefly about her work with the residents at two of the blighted properties she bought, repaired and cleaned up. “When we started, we didn’t realize how traumatized these families are,” she said. “Since we began putting the lens of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) over the community, I now understand what better to do. First get rid of crime. Then get an after-school program with social emotional learning,” she listed as a couple of the steps along the path of helping families, apartment complexes, and nearby schools become more stable.
Carey Sipp, Southeastern Community Facilitator for ACEs Connection, shared that work to build a statewide structure in Kentucky is underway. Meetings with leaders from Kentucky Youth Advocates and other organizations are scheduled for the second week of January.
Chris Freeze, a trauma-informed business consultant, will soon be working with statewide community manager Jackie Chatmon, System of Care project director at the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, to further activate the state.
Mebane Boyd, executive director of the New Hanover Resiliency Task Force, said the Resilient North Carolina Collaborative is meeting with trauma-informed leaders throughout the state to coordinate advocacy efforts, to “find a way to align our advocacy and prioritize what might be best, so we are all asking for the same thing.” She said the group will be doing a training in early 2021 on how to do advocacy, who to contact, when and how to organize.
CTIPP general counsel Press said North Carolina’s Sen. Richard Burr will be either the chair of the Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee or the ranking minority leader of that committee, depending on what happens in the upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia. “Either way, he will be influential, and we need trauma-informed programs to educate him and his staffers,” Press said. There will be a call with North Carolina leaders the first week in January to put together a strategy to reach out to Burr.
Alyssa Koziarsky, research and evaluation assistant at the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, said the Children’s Trust, which leads the South Carolina ACE initiative, is sharing its COVID-19 Impact on Children’s Well-Being Data Snapshot.
The report discusses disparities in housing, health care, and economic opportunities, and sheds light on the importance of protective factors. “We have been working on this for months,” she said. “Now we are providing advocacy steps for how to provide local supports. We are excited about this and will be sharing it out with legislators in January.’’
Jennifer Drake Croft, director of child well-being at the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said there is a new phase of strategic planning for the state’s signature Building Strong Brains Tennessee program. The goal is to establish Tennessee as a national model for how a state can promote culture change in early childhood, based on a philosophy that preventing and mitigating adverse childhood experiences, and their impact, is the most promising approach to helping Tennessee children lead productive, healthy lives and ensuring the future prosperity of the state.
The group is bracing for the possibility of major funding cuts. There are now some 1,252 diverse sector trainers for the Building Strong Brains program, representing all 95 counties in the state. The Department of Education has received approval for a second cohort of schools to become trauma-informed, the Department of Health has been through strategic planning and named ACEs as a priority, and the Building Strong Brains program will now be shared as part of training for foster parents.
Croft said Tennessee has been invited to the National Governors Association meeting to share a presentation on their work in adverse childhood experiences. She also said that East Tennessee State University has founded the Strong BRAIN (Building Resilience through ACEs Informed Networking) Institute, which is an ACEs Center of Excellence working with organizations to transform policies, procedures, and philosophies to promote resilience and mitigate the effects of ACEs.
The Commission on Children and Youth is executing a social media campaign following the success of last year’s campaign, which reached 500,000 people. The new campaign will raise awareness of the importance of brain development and preventing toxic stress. “We will be publishing a toolkit that people from other states can adopt for their use – this is coming,” Croft said.
Among updates from Nashville, Croft said that Ingrid Cockhren, ACEs Connection Community Facilitator for the Midwest and Tennessee, has been doing a community education series for parents, and that the ACE Nashville team, with some 400 members, is focusing on equity within the membership and the leadership team.
Janet Pozmantier, nonprofit consultant and trainer, and Jullian Gaut, social worker, have been working with Sipp to create a survey that will live on the Texas ACEs Connection site. A link to the survey will be emailed to the more than 1,000 Texas members of ACEs Connection, to help leaders identify and connect with ACEs initiatives throughout the state.
CTIPP leaders Press and Jesse Kohler reported that more than 600 people have emailed Kohler to add their names to the Sign On Letter for Biden Harris Administration's First 100 Days.
Kohler said that there is a social media campaign to help CTIPP add to the number of people signing versions of the letter. “If you still want to sign on, just email me to be added,” he said. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Press encouraged attendees to alert him if they know of any state legislators who are trauma informed, as he would like to invite them to join the CTIPP Community Action Network.
Federal funding update
Press urged the group to try to secure some of the money that states and communities soon will be getting through the resolution of opioid lawsuits.
“You should start looking into this,” he said. “Right now, most of the money will be spent on people who have already suffered. Some of this funding needs to be spent on preventing trauma, and on building resilience. You are encouraged to find out where the money is going and get in there and advocate for a portion to be used for prevention and for resilience building.”
Press also shared that CTIPP is exploring ways to finance trauma-informed programs that don’t rely on government funding, because governments are running out of money. “One of the things we need is evidence that trauma-informed programs save money,” he said. “We know schools implementing trauma-informed programs have fewer discipline issues and less teacher turnover, fewer security guards, and more kids in seats, so they receive more money because attendance is better.
“We are having trouble finding good hard data. If any of you have actual hard data, we think we have people ready to invest in trauma-informed programs that can be paid back over time.”
Monthly call schedule
Here are the upcoming calls, with educational topics, for the CTIPP Community Action Network (CAN). Calls are the third Wednesday of each month from 2-3:30 p.m. EST, except for January 2021, as that’s the day Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated.
Jan. 27 - East Tennessee State University and Southern Oregon University are becoming trauma informed; representatives from the two schools will share what they are doing to facilitate the transitions.
Feb. 17 – Delaware First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney will talk about Delaware’s becoming the first trauma-informed state in the U.S.
March 17 - A representative from England’s WAVE Trust will discuss the initiative working to reduce child abuse by 70 percent in 10 years, and how Great Britain and the U.S. can work together.
April 21 – Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz will elaborate on how she and her organization are helping some 235 families break out of the multi-generational cycle of poverty and trauma.
May 19 – Mimi Graham and Andy Blanch will share information about a new program involving in-person trauma assessments of agencies to help them become more trauma-informed.
Upcoming SE leader calls
The next ACEs Connection SE Leader quarterly call is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2. Subsequent calls will be on for June 15, September 21, and December 21. All calls are from 2:30-4 p.m. EST.
To learn more about CTIPP, Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz, or Margaret Stagmeier: