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ACE Awareness Foundation Selects New Executive Director

Renowned child and adolescent development expert Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH, has been selected to head the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Awareness Foundation of Memphis, Tennessee. The Foundation is dedicated to educating communities about the ways in which chronic childhood trauma can produce an array of mental, physical, and behavioral health challenges that lead to poor outcomes for adults, and to supporting prevention and intervention efforts.

Founded in 2016, the ACE Awareness Foundation has led Shelby County efforts to reduce toxic stress in family systems. It provides strategic oversight of the ACE Task Force of Shelby County; supervision of Universal Parenting Places, judgment-free centers where parents receive no-cost information, counseling, and emotional support for family-related concerns; and support for development of a multidisciplinary ACE curriculum by the University of Memphis. Foundation leaders said that selecting Dr. Wilson-Simmons to serve as executive director signals an organizational commitment to ensuring that Memphis continues to be a leading force in understanding and addressing ACEs across the state and the nation.

“We are very pleased to have Renée’s exceptional leadership as the Foundation enters a new phase in its growth,” said Barbara Nixon, founding board chair, now ex-officio, and consultant to the Foundation. “From addressing the health and safety needs of young people to supporting neighborhood-based efforts to improve communication in families to promoting trauma-informed policy in New York City, Renée brings invaluable expertise and gravitas to the position. Our board underwent a national search to find the best candidate to manage the Foundation and, with Renée, we feel confident that we’ve succeeded.”

Dr. Wilson-Simmons comes to the ACE Awareness Foundation with more than 30 years of experience working with vulnerable populations, having been a researcher, program developer and manager, evaluator, trainer, technical assistance provider, grantee, and program officer. She joins the Foundation from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she was director of the National Center for Children in Poverty, a nonpartisan public policy research center, and faculty in the Department of Health Policy and Management. She was a member of the National Advisory Board of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, Division of Child and Family Well-Being, and a member of the executive steering committee for the Columbia Institute for Thriving Communities and Minds, a university-wide interdisciplinary initiative to promote trauma-informed practice and policy in New York City.

Prior to joining Columbia University, Dr. Wilson-Simmons was at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, first as the senior program officer for adolescent health and development, then as associate director of the Evidence-Based Practice Group, which identifies, develops, and scales up interventions proven effective in producing better outcomes for children and families involved with public human service systems. She was also director of the Health Promotion Program for Urban Youth at Boston City Hospital, principal investigator of the first Office of Minority Health-funded grant to develop a community-based coalition to prevent homicide in the African American community, and director of a five-year National Institutes of Health study of the long-term impact of an adolescent health program on reductions in violence, substance abuse, and early and unprotected sexual activity among inner-city youth. She received a doctorate in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in urban journalism from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

“I’m very proud to be joining the ACE Awareness Foundation at a time when the movement to understand and address adverse childhood experiences is gaining real traction across the nation,” said Dr. Wilson-Simmons. “At the top of my to-do list is finding the best ways to build on the Foundation’s stellar work, amplifying its voice as an authority and continuing to increase awareness of ACEs and access to the types of supports that can help entire generations thrive.”

Decades of research have shown that ACEs, including abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction, can cause excessive activation of stress responses, disrupting proper physical development in children and putting them at heightened risk for negative social and health outcomes as adults.

“The ACE Awareness Foundation has emerged as an important advocate for innovative solutions to everyday toxic stress that children and families struggle to overcome,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, a Foundation partner. “The Foundation provided crucial funding for the state’s Building Strong Brains initiative, and we look forward to working with Renée and deepening our partnership to create a healthier, more prosperous Tennessee.”

The ACE Awareness Foundation engaged Carrington & Carrington, LTD, to conduct a national search for the executive director, which was led by Nelvia M. Brady-Hampton, senior vice president and mid-South consultant. Since its founding in 1979, Carrington & Carrington has become one of the leading African-American and female-owned executive search firms in the country.

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