We’re building the ship as we’re sailing it

Three weeks ago, Anna Meredith and Connor Schmidt represented Kachemak Bay Family Planning’s R.E.C. Room at Action to Access, the 2018 ACEs Conference and Pediatric Symposium in San Francisco. There, they listened to experts from all over the country speak about the national movement to address ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, a sphere of experiences in early childhood that trigger a fear or stress response in the body, and cause it to produce high levels of adrenaline and cortisol. If this stress response is triggered enough, those chemicals begin to impede brain development. The longer this goes, and the more the adverse experiences a child has, the greater the effect on the brain.

But this is not a life sentence.

“Our experiences and traumas provide us with survival skills,” said Connor Schmidt, Peer Coordinator at the R.E.C. Room. “They provide us with ways to escape. Those can be turned into adaptive advantages once we begin to mitigate the harms done and further develop those advantages.”

By building positive social connections, having concrete support systems in times of need, and a few other methods, it is possible to increase the resilience of a person with ACEs and take a step back on those potential negative outcomes.

In the years since the ACEs study came out, a movement to increase awareness and promote protective factors has been slowly gaining traction throughout the country.

“All social systems are slowly starting to be infiltrated by ACEs awareness,” said Anna Meredith, Youth Program Manager at KBFPC’s the R.E.C. Room.

And not just awareness, but engaging with the fact of these experiences.

“You can be informed, and have that awareness and accept it to be our truth,” said Meredith, “but that doesn’t mean you’re going to change how you act because of it.”

That shift in awareness and behavior is what Meredith and Schmidt hope to teach not just the teen Peer Education team they work with, but all the teens in Homer and the villages that they teach.

“Now that we understand this information, how are we providing that to more and more people? How do we improve our lessons so that others can learn from us?” asked Schmidt.

By writing their own curriculum and lesson plans, they are able to incorporate information about ACEs and their impact. Since attending the conference in San Francisco, both Meredith and Schmidt feel empowered and inspired to continue pushing further into figuring out how to bring this information into the community.

“I left totally believing that this is what’s going to, at least reduce, violence against children,” Meredith said. “And we’re going to live on a better planet if children experience less violence.”

The efforts of programs like the R.E.C. Room, as well as more overarching groups like the Alaska Resilience Initiative and the Southern Kenai Peninsula Resilience Coalition, have put Alaska on the forefront of this national movement. The Alaska Resilience Initiative created History and Hope, a curriculum for educators and health care providers, about ACEs in Alaska that addresses trauma-informed care and historical trauma.

MAPP, or Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships, is a local health improvement coalition with the vision of a proactive, resilient and innovative community.

For anyone interested in learning more the Southern Kenai Peninsula Resilience Coalition meets every second Wednesday from 11am-12:30pm at South Peninsula Hospital’s Training Room, 203 West Pioneer Ave. The next meeting will be December 12th. You can also find them online at www.skp-resilience.mappofskp.net.

Deb Meadows is a Homer resident with a passion for community health who writes for the local health coalition, MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership).