Family, Community Resilience Key Themes at ACEs Symposium: Awareness to Action

Dr. Wendy Ellis delivered a keynote address on the link between family and community resilience at the Loewenberg College of Nursing ACEs Symposium held in Memphis on April 5. Photo credit: Rhonda Cosentino, courtesy of Loewenberg College of Nursing, University of Memphis.

A mix of health, education, and criminal justice professionals gathered at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis ballroom early this month for the Loewenberg College of Nursing ACEs Symposium: Awareness to Action. Hosted in collaboration with the Institute for Interdisciplinary Memphis Partnerships to Advance Community Transformation (iIMPACT), the event featured a series of discussions on the barriers to moving past basic understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) toward productive, sustainable solutions.

Among the symposium highlights was a keynote address by Dr. Wendy Ellis, project director of the Building Community Resilience Collaborative at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. Dr. Ellis described the organization as being focused on addressing the long-term work of improving the health and stability of families.

“When we talk about what resilience is, I am not applying a term of physics to the human spirit,” Dr. Ellis explained to the audience. “The term ‘resilience’ comes from physics. The definition is for an object to return to its natural state after suffering impact.” The priority should be not only on helping families who have experienced trauma to bounce back, Dr. Ellis noted, but to thrive.

Photo credit: Rhonda Cosentino, courtesy of Loewenberg College of Nursing, University of Memphis

Dr. Ellis went on to say that addressing ACEs must also mean unpacking the disparate impact they have when compounded by systemic barriers and wealth gaps. Achieving community resilience, she explained, comes with understanding the interconnectivity of housing, public schools, and criminal justice.

“We have to accept part of our work is not just healing individuals, but working at the systems level, side by side,” Ellis said. “We have to bring our systems to the table and figure out what their role is in continuing these vicious cycles.”

Following Dr. Ellis’s speech, Dr. Altha Stewart, psychiatrist and director of the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, moderated two panel discussions, which were followed by question-and-answer sessions aimed at exploring what practitioners and policymakers can do to build a truly resilient, trauma-resistant community. The first panelists looked at the issue from a research perspective, while the second panel (which included ACE Awareness Foundation Clinical Director Ebony Bailey) examined the question from their experiences as social service professionals.

ACE Awareness Foundation Executive Director Renée Wilson-Simmons delivered closing remarks, challenging participants to keep the momentum and spirit of engagement moving forward. “Children do better when their parents and families do better,” said Dr. Wilson-Simmons. “And our real power in buffering them from ACEs lies in our ability to connect and collaborate — we go further when we go together.”


ACE Awareness Foundation to Hire Administrative, Research, and Communications Staff

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The ACE Awareness Foundation team is expanding! The Foundation is looking to hire three outstanding people to help fulfill its mission: an Administrative Assistant, a Senior Research Associate, and a Communications/Development Associate. Please send great candidates to our website for details.


Video Spotlight

We couldn’t have said it better! Watch our favorite Pickleball guru Taylor Taylor explain why physical activity — like yoga, Zumba, and Pickleball — is such a useful tool for mitigating the effects of ACEs. And don’t forget to check the Universal Parenting Place Facebook page for details.


Sesame Street in Communities

This month, our Universal Parenting Place site teams welcomed staff from Sesame Street in Communities for a training on ways to  integrate SSIC’s extensive library of tools and resources on child development and parent engagement into our strategic plan. We were excited to welcome Sesame Workshop Assistant Vice President Rocio Galarza and Senior Project Manager Jasmin Williams to Memphis in late April for a hands-on session with our Universal Parenting Place site directors and hospitality/outreach coordinators. Together, we practiced elements of signature SSIC parent workshops on trauma, resilience, and mindfulness in order to adapt those tools in our UPP sites.

Throughout April, our Sesame Street partners focu sed on the variety of ways that children and their families can grow and learn together. School readiness resources featured Elmo and his friends singing about learning through counting, building, stretching, moving, laughing, singing, dancing, cooking, and more. And in honor of Autism Awareness Month, a group of caregivers at Universal Parenting Place at Perea Preschool learned about autism and how to support a child or family member who experiences the world differently.



ACEs News & Resources

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ACEs are Different than Child Trauma, and It’s Critical to Understand Why
Legislators, advocates, caregivers, and the media have become increasingly more aware of the risks that childhood adversity poses to individual health and well-being. But while tools and strategies for identifying potentially harmful childhood experiences have gained popularity, some of the terminology used to describe those experiences has become confusing. In a blog post published this month by Child Trends, researchers Jessica Dum Bartlett and Vanessa Sacks explain how ACEs differ from other commonly used terms, including childhood adversity, trauma, and toxic stress — and why understanding the differences between them can be critical to a child’s chances of success. Read more here.


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New Resource Explores How Executive Function Works and Its Impact on Child Development
Being able to focus, hold, and work with information in mind, filter distractions, and switch gears is like having an air traffic control system at a busy airport to manage the arrivals and departures of dozens of planes on multiple runways. In the brain, this air traffic control mechanism is called executive function. As essential as they are, we aren’t born with the skills that enable us to control impulses, make plans, and stay focused. We are born with the potential to develop these capacities—or not—depending on our experiences during infancy, throughout childhood, and into adolescence. Our genes provide the blueprint, but the early environments in which children live leave a lasting signature on those genes. A new infographic and guide from the Harvard Center explains the basics of building executive function skills, and why they’re critical for lifelong success. Read more on the Harvard Center website.


STUDY: Childhood Trauma has Lasting Effect on Brain Connectivity in Patients with Depression
Neuroscience News reported this month that a recent study led by Penn Medicine researchers suggested a critical link between childhood trauma and major depression. According to the report, the research team found that childhood trauma is linked to abnormal connectivity in the brain in adults with major depressive disorder, suggesting a possible environmental contributor to neurobiological symptoms. The study was published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is the first data-driven report to show symptom-specific, system-level changes in brain network connectivity among adults with major depressive disorder.


Mark Your Calendars

The Universal Parenting Places are offering free workshops and support groups throughout May! Visit the UPP Facebook page  for a calendar of events happening at the Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women, Christ Community Health Services, and Knowledge Quest locations.

Register now: The Hope In Action Trauma-Informed City Community Empowerment Conference will take place in Memphis on Tuesday, May 7, 9am-4pm. Sponsored by, the event will feature a keynote address by our executive director, Dr. Renée Wilson-Simmons. For event details, visit

Mark your calendars for the first annual Trauma-Informed Educators Network Conference happening in Nashville on July 15-16. Hosted by Paradigm Shift Education, the international conference will promote trauma-informed practices and encourage practitioners to create a lasting network of professional support. Visit for more information.