On November 8th and 9th, representatives from all 14 localities selected for Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) met in Philadelphia, PA to meet and network with one another. Their goal was also to share their efforts for all those who have suffered from adverse childhood experiences including senior citizens, the disabled and those fighting chronic illness, and youth and families at risk.
Representing the HEARTS initiative was MARC Project Leader University at Albany’s Heather Larkin, Ph.D. She is associate professor in UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare, and is the HEARTS program director. Joining Dr. Larkin from UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare were Dean Emeritus Katharine Briar-Lawson and Doctoral Candidate Lisa Goode. Other HEARTS member organizations and representatives attending were LaSalle School’s David Wallace, Senior Hope’s Nicole MacFarland, Trinity Alliance’s Harris Oberlander, Steve Marcal from the Center for Disability Services. HEARTS is an acronym for ‘Healthy Environments And Relationships That Support.’
The two-day meeting provided the MARC communities with opportunities to meet one another, discuss the many ways that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) affect all age groups and impact their short and long-term health consequences, and how treatment practices are being transformed by the science of ACEs.
A synopsis of each MARC community was published in a booklet outlining the two-day agenda, and MARC goals. Many pages were devoted to telling the stories of each of the 14 MARC communities and their work thus far in the field of ACEs, brain science, and response. In the HEARTS narrative, LaSalle School Executive Director Bill Wolff described why the Albany area with high rates of poverty, unemployment, food scarcity and homelessness, along with a high density of child and family serving agencies within a 10-mile radius was a natural place to build affinities with other HEARTS leaders.
“I learned from listening to how other HEARTS leaders were using trauma-sensitive practices in serving homeless adults or people on probation,” said Wolff. “HEARTS connected me to emerging practices and colleagues not exactly in the same business as me.” Wolff and his team at LaSalle used that knowledge to help transform the culture at LaSalle School. “We swapped out one set of tools – a compliance and control perspective – for a more compassionate, humane and understanding perspective,” he said. Staff and youth learned new language. Kids now talk about their ‘brains being hijacked’ or note that an agitated classmate is in ‘fight or flight’ mode.
Larkin said HEARTS would like to do more outreach in schools and with health care providers. She hopes the initiative can learn from other MARC communities that have made inroads with those groups. “I have a particular interest in engaging more homeless service agencies,” Larkin said. “They’re helping people who have somehow fallen through the cracks. They’re likely a hub of integrated service delivery.”
The next step for HEARTS is to further the question that launched Larkin’s dissertation, years ago. The overriding mission of the HEARTS Initiative’s MARC proposal is to move from an agency-based collaborative to build a social and systems change movement advancing ACE resilience. “We’re different professionals who all have important skills for addressing the issue,” Larkin said. “There’s room for the whole community to be involved in ACE response.”
LaSalle School is a leader in programs and services for youth and families in crisis offering a variety of programs designed to meet their needs including specialized residential placement, day service education, and alternative to detention services. The Counseling Center at LaSalle is an OMH and OASAS licensed outpatient behavioral health clinic located at LaSalle School, and currently implementing ACE treatment practices with youth and families. LaSalle is accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), and affiliated with the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), and the national Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.