On Friday morning at Kepler Theater on the campus of Hagerstown Community College, Bester Community of Hope continued its training series focused on trauma informed practices with over 350 attendees present for “Healing Communities”. The much anticipated event brought two nationally renowned speakers and a panel of local and regional leaders to discuss what the research currently says about the impact of adverse childhood experiences on our community, what is currently being tried in our region to respond to social needs, and creative approaches nationally that have proved successful over time.
Leading the event, Dr. Robert Anda, co-principal investigator of the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study, expanded on information provided at previous trainings by discussing the direct correlation between trauma experienced in childhood and many of the social problems we experience in communities. He focused on how common ACE’S are in the general population and the call to action that the data represents for community groups to build self-healing communities. It is in those communities that the service sector can be a stronger partner to individuals who have traditionally been viewed primarily as the recipient of services, and shift towards empowering these individuals to be the agent of change in their neighborhood.
Anda followed his presentation by facilitating a dialogue with community leaders who discussed their beliefs in the best approaches to strengthening communities and where they’ve had success in working with children and families. The panel included Rebecca Jones-Gaston, Executive Director of Social Services Administration of Maryland; Carolyn Holcomb, 2017-2018 Washington County Teacher of the Year; Del. Brett Wilson, Washington County (R-2B); Andy Smith, Brothers Who Care and Hagerstown Chief of Police Victor Brito.
“Credibility is the key,” explained Andy Smith, “People don’t question my intentions in the neighborhood because they know I’m consistently there.” Chief Victor Brito added that he built credibility with Andy Smith as a neighborhood resident by taking the time to get to know him and that this was not just professionally, but personally. “We’re family now.” Looking at the issue from an education perspective, Carolyn Holcomb sees the need to move towards trauma informed schools across Washington County. “We have kids coming to class that are hungry or are experiencing major situations at home or in their neighborhood. In some situations they’re not able to learn until we take a moment to allow them to be heard and acknowledge their feelings. It doesn’t take long, sometimes we can accomplish this in 30 seconds and it can make the difference.” The audience had the opportunity to engage with panelists, and one gentleman explained that he grew up in public housing in difficult circumstances and, “what is needed is consistency. Professionals can come into a community and decide to work on a couple things for a while and then they move on. Trust comes from being there over time.”
Closing the program, Father Gregory Boyle arrived from Los Angeles, California to provide a keynote on the power of boundless compassion, reflected in his countless years of work leading the largest gang intervention program in the world. As the Founder and CEO of Homeboy Industries, he kept the crowd laughing, crying and on the edge of their seats as he recalled numerous stories of challenging situations where unconditional love was the secret ingredient to lasting positive outcomes with individuals and families that had not experienced success previously. He pushed the audience to think about how similar we all are, and that, “We’re not separate. We’re one.” He focused on the idea of mutuality and shared experience, to help build connections and relationships, and that a “community of kinship” is what he has worked to develop at Homeboy Industries, focused on essential healing.
Bester Community of Hope, an initiative of San Mar Family & Community Services (previously San Mar Children’s Home), plans to follow-up this event with smaller gatherings of key groups in Hagerstown interested in expanding the awareness of the ACE research and implementing trauma informed practices in school and neighborhood settings. Their 3rd annual community summit titled “Collective Impact” is scheduled for Thursday, March 29th at Hagerstown Community College.
To learn more about the important work of these speakers, explore the following links:
Father Gregory Boyle, Homeboy Industries: http://www.homeboyindustries.org
Dr. Robert Anda, ACE Interface: http://www.aceinterface.com