Childhood adversity fight in spotlight

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Walla Walla is on the map for many things -- its Main Street revitalization, boutique wineries, great quality of life and, most recently, being recognized as the friendliest city in the U.S.

But it is also gaining national attention for the community's teamwork in addressing adverse childhood experiences and the negative health outcomes that result from these experiences.

For the past three years, a team of folks from all walks of life has been learning about the effect ACEs have on brain development and what we as a community can do to bring awareness to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call the No. 1 national health epidemic.

The Children's Resilience Initiative Team is working to shift how we respond to the very large number of people who have experienced trauma, with the goal of reversing the effects trauma can have when it is passed on within families. We now know that ACEs are very common across all sectors of our population.

We are fortunate to have the internationally recognized Dr. Vincent Felitti, the "father" of the research on ACEs, in town to visit with our medical community. Felitti will share his hope for a future without ACEs at the second annual Walla Walla Violence Prevention Conference March 26-27.

Felitti found negative childhood experiences to have a devastating effect on adult health. He further discovered that by sharing the experience of trauma, people can walk away from the shame and blame of what they had no control over.

None of us get to pick the family into which we are born, yet we must deal with the effects of that family during our formative years. We can choose to not stay victimized or stigmatized by our history, to break that cycle for our children and their children. This is the message of hope that the Children's Resilience Initiative Team is spreading.

The initiative focuses on building resilience into our daily lives, because it's clear that resilience helps buffer ACEs.

In fact, the newest research shows that providing nurturing actually helps repair the damage caused by ACEs. Every one of us can build nurturing into our daily lives. This is the power of resilience.

The CRI Team is now being asked to speak at national conferences to tell the stories of our community's response to ACEs.

There are many examples of the response from local agencies and programs that have embedded the principles behind ACEs, brain development and resilience.

For example, the Health Center at Lincoln has recently released a video in which students express their new directions in life because they feel heard and valued by their interactions with staff at the Health Center. Lincoln High School has been a leader in developing an ACE response and is now showing dramatic gains in reducing out-of-school suspensions and discipline referrals.

Children's Home Society has incorporated ACE and resilience training into its parenting classes. Commitment to Community is using CRI's framework to document its work within our neighborhoods to build resilience, connection and support.

Don't miss the opportunity to catch some or all of the events associated with Dr. Felitti's visit.

For details, go to www.wwviolenceprevention.com.

Mark Brown is executive director of Friends of Children of Walla Walla. He can be reached at mark@wallawallafriends.org or at 509-527-4745. Teri Barila is Walla Walla Community Network coordinator. She can be reached at ter.barila@wwcc.edu or at 509-386-5855.

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