Written by: India Flinchum, Whitman College Community Fellow Program
The Community Resilience Initiative (CRI) of Walla Walla, hosted its 8th annual “October is Resilience Month” (ORM) event in October, 2020. The aim of the yearly ORM series is to build resilience, encourage community-engagement, and inspire self-reflection among members of the Walla Walla community. Through community events and CRI-hosted learning modules, CRI welcomed the general public once again, opening its arms to individuals interested in building personal resilience, learning about ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), and working towards community-wide change. Once again, CRI demonstrated what the Walla Walla community is capable of when it joins together to shift perspectives on ACEs and childhood, community, and global traumas.
This particular year was a markedly surreal experience for all of us in Walla Walla and beyond. A global pandemic disrupted every semblance of normalcy we have cultivated. New stay-at-home orders and mask mandates challenged our sanity on a personal level while exposing many structural issues rooted deep within our society. CRI hosted its first ORM educational series using Zoom, since we could not gather in person at our usual meeting space. Our community-wide events were modified to suit an audience impacted by COVID-19. Instead of hosting community-events with our various partner agencies, we scaled our activities down to a month-long scavenger hunt challenge, in which participants were encouraged to look for our Resilience Sandwich Board (placed in various locations around Walla Walla), snap a picture of themselves by the board, and pick up a bag of resilience-themed goodies at the YMCA, who offered their help to CRI.
After reflecting on this year’s ORM series, we spoke to some of our community partners to gauge how ORM has impacted others. Kody Russel is a longtime friend of CRI and is Executive Director of Kitsap Strong, a community initiative aimed at improving the health and well-being of children, families, and adults in Kitsap, Washington. Russell founded his own ORM based off of CRI’s model three years ago, and has since grown his engagement efforts significantly to include concepts like epigenetics, neuroscience, and multiple exposures.
“We just held our third annual resiliency summit. It has been three years since we tried to model the work from Walla Walla using October as a specific month and opportunity to do outreach and awareness building. This year, we pivoted to address COVID and ended up doing a full month-worth of Monday-Friday daily sessions that we recorded and shared with our community. It was live and recorded so people could access it”, Russell commented.
Curtis Phillips is a social science professor at the Human and Social Services department at Walla Walla Community College. He has worked alongside CRI on initiatives for many years and has seen CRI adapt to fit a myriad of different circumstances and expand to meet the needs of an ever-morphing community.
“The work that [the] Community Resilience Initiative is doing is fantastic in the sense that it really does transcend all populations and all agencies. From an educator’s standpoint, October is Resilience Month because it builds dedicated time for us to talk about certain issues. It provides a dedicated time for training… it’s consistent…it has influenced me greatly”, Phillips remarked.
Phillips is grateful for the engagement between his own department and CRI. In regards to the turnout from his students, he said “ … October’s participation numbers have been very high… I know just in terms of looking at the active participant list during sessions, our school made up a significant number. So, for me, that is wonderful because oftentimes our students are busy. They’ve got multiple competing schedules, and they’re often not able to attend community events as often as Whitman or Walla Walla University students are. I thought CRI did a nice job in terms of the selection of topics and providing a well-rounded approach and looking at different factors and sort of concluding how this current pandemic had impacted us and possibly the election”.
Mary Campbell is Executive Director of the Community Council, a Walla Walla-based organization that engages community members in Columbia County, Milton Freewater, and Umatilla County to come together to identify community-wide issues and affect structural change. The Community Council has been a long-term partner with CRI, and both organizations are aligned in their goals of spreading education, awareness and increasing advocacy among community members and participants. Campbell says, “Both Teri and I engage community members and help them use their voice. CRI has adapted to changes this year, and I believe they can still push forward.” Campbell believes that CRI has a strong mission and vision, and that community mobilization can strengthen even more through more concrete data analysis that demonstrates the importance of their work. By running data and creating indicators to measure impact, CRI can identify issues more clearly and mobilize the community around common goals.
CRI is continuously looking for ways to mobilize and engage with our community in new and innovative ways. If you would like to reach out to us or are looking to learn more about what we do, you can learn more from our website at https://criresilient.org.