ACE Awareness Foundation, Porter-Leath Selected as New Partners in Sesame Workshop’s National Early Childhood Initiative 

Photo courtesy of ACE Awareness Foundation.

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind Sesame Street, announced this month that Memphis, Tennessee, is the next community selected for Sesame Street in Communities (SSIC). SSIC is a nationwide initiative to support parents, caregivers, and community providers in their efforts to give all children, especially the most vulnerable, a strong and healthy start. Sesame Street in Communities selected Memphis because of the community’s existing collaborative efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of young children and families, and is partnering with the ACE Awareness Foundation and Porter-Leath to introduce the new initiative intended to advance support for local families and children under age six. 

From left to right: Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President of U.S. Social Impact, Sesame Workshop; Sean Lee, President, Porter-Leath; ACEAF Executive Director Renée Wilson-Simmons; Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris; and Karen Harrell, Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Services. Photo courtesy of ACE Awareness Foundation.

In an op-ed published in the Commercial Appeal, ACEAF Executive Director Renée Wilson-Simmons welcomed SSIC to the city — and to the work of understanding and mitigating the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in the community. “Our city is at the forefront of what has become a national movement to prevent toxic stress among children and support their healthy development,” wrote Wilson-Simmons. “Now we’ll have the added strength of an ally trusted by adults and kids in 150 countries across the nation — one with a 50-year history of boosting early learning, emotional health, and social development for young people around the globe.”

ACE Awareness Foundation and Porter-Leath will integrate Sesame Street in Communities into their programming, in-person events, and trainings. The ACE Awareness Foundation will embed SSIC resources into programming at four Universal Parenting Places (UPPs) sites in Memphis. Since 2017, the UPPs have served local families and the community at large by creating nurturing parenting environments and offering activities that strengthen family connections and enhance child development through counseling, emotional support, and stress-reduction, and parent-child activities.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris joined representatives from Sesame Workshop, ACE Awareness Foundation, and Porter-Leath to introduce the partnership at a kick-off press conference on December 4. The press conference was held at the Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy with an interactive workshop for parents immediately following. More on the announcement can be found in coverage by the Daily Memphian, Chalkbeat Tennessee, High Ground News, and WREG, as well as on the ACE Awareness Foundation website.


ACE Awareness Foundation Welcomes New Board President 

Photo of new ACEAF Board President Adriane Johnson-Williams, courtesy of the ACE Awareness Foundation.

The ACE Awareness Foundation is pleased to announce the appointment of a new chairwoman and a slate of new officers to its board of directors.

In addition, the board announced that current member Dennis Higdon, MD will move into the position of vice-chair and Dorothy Johnson, also a current board member, will serve as secretary.  Board member Melissa Russell will retain the position of treasurer in the coming term.

The ACE Awareness Foundation is dedicated to educating Memphis 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.

Adriane Johnson-Williams is a former program officer at Pyramid Peak Foundation. She currently serves as special assistant to the president for strategy and planning at LeMoyne-Owens College in Memphis.

Prior to those roles, Johnson-Williams was director of collaborative action at Shelby County education advocacy partnership Seeding Success and an assistant professor in the College of Human Resources and Education at West Virginia University where she taught courses in Social and Cultural Foundations and Education Policy.

“We are very excited to have Adriane Johnson-Williams move into this new leadership position on our board of directors,” said ACEAF Executive Director Renée Wilson-Simmons. “Not only does she bring her considerable professional experience to her role, but her deep understanding of the foundation’s mission and position among ACE advocates, experts, and innovators will be critical as we forge ahead in this work. I am so pleased to have the chance to continue working with her — and to have the ongoing guidance and support of our current slate of board officers.”

Since its founding in 2016, the ACE Awareness Foundation has led Shelby County efforts to reduce toxic stress in family systems, helping Memphis to emerge as a national model for addressing and mitigating ACEs. The organization 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.

“We are determined to have ACE prevention take root in the Greater Memphis area with our Universal Parenting Places, which are distinct in the nation, as our primary strategy,” said Johnson-Williams. “We are grateful for Stephen Bush’s leadership during our transition and for providing the solid foundation upon which we can build.”

The ACE Awareness Foundation board provides leadership for carrying out its mission to educate Greater Memphis about adverse childhood experiences, support families in their efforts to prevent and mitigate ACEs, and change local and state systems to support ACE prevention efforts. Toward that purpose, the board announced earlier this year that renowned child and adolescent development expert Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH had been selected to lead the foundation as executive director.

“Dr. Wilson-Simmons is off to a strong start,” Johnson-Williams added. “We’re committed to growing the board and ensuring she has the kind of support she needs to pursue the Foundation’s mission successfully.”



Building Strong Brains Tennessee Conducts Memphis Training for Trainers 

Participants in the December Building Strong Brains Tennessee training for trainers. To date, the program has produced 897 trainers across Tennessee, and they have presented on ACE-related issues to more than 34,000 individuals. Photo courtesy of Building Strong Brains Tennessee.

An important strategy for raising awareness around adverse childhood experiences in Tennessee is to recruit and support a diverse field of sector professionals and community leaders able to train others on ACE impacts and effective interventions. This month, the Building Strong Brains Tennessee (BSB), a statewide effort aimed at promoting culture change in preventing and mitigating adverse childhood experiences across the state, organized a two-day training in Memphis aimed at equipping local leaders to conduct trainings and awareness sessions on brain development, toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences, and broad strategies to promote individual and community resilience.

The BSB training for trainers session was held on December 11 and 12 in Memphis with a range of public and private sector professionals in attendance, including higher education faculty, nonprofit organization administrators, therapists, early childhood professionals, K-12 educators, Rotary Club members, and philanthropic organization staff.  Building Strong Brains Tennessee works with organizations across Tennessee to promote promising approaches to helping Tennessee children lead productive, healthy lives and ensure the future prosperity of the state. Through the training, BSB is working to develop more partners who will work collaboratively to help communities provide safe, stable, nurturing environments where children can thrive. There are now 897 BSB trainers across Tennessee, and they have presented to more than 34,000 individuals.


What’s a Facility Dog, and What Role Can They Play in Providing Trauma-Informed Care?

Research has shown that facility dogs such at these at Lakeside Global Institute schools can help students deal with stress, remain calm, overcome depression, improve academic performance, and increase social skills. With the assistance of a facility dog, students learn empathy, sharing, and patience. Photo courtesy of Lakeside Global Institute.

Humans have benefited from animal companionship for centuries. However, in recent years, the power that animals have to promote the social-emotional health of students and, in turn, their ability to succeed in school is receiving increased attention. During a recent visit to Lakeside Global Institute in North Wales, Pennsylvania, ACE Awareness Foundation staff saw facility dogs in action at the institute’s schools. The institute offers comprehensive trauma-informed training to professional organizations and systems of care that provide support for trauma-impacted children and adults. It also operates four schools that enable students to experience academic, emotional, social, and behavioral success by providing them with a therapeutic learning experience that is both supporting and nurturing. The objective for all of the schools’ students is to achieve their goals and transition to the next steps in their lives—be it to return to their home school, graduate, begin a vocation, attend college or enter the military.

In addition to small classes, intensive counseling, individualized planning, and partnerships with parents is the use of facility dogs. According to school staff, having a dog constantly available allows teachers and staff members to better meet students’ needs, helping them feel safe and easing difficult situations.

For more information about the schools’ dogs, check out Nurturing Positive Change, a three-part video series that describes how the dogs are able to help students regulate their emotions, impulses, and behaviors; relate to others; and access the highest parts of their brains to learn and reason.


ACE Awareness Foundation Hosts Lunch for First African American Woman Elected President of the American Medical Association

Photo courtesy of American Medical Association.

On December 7, the ACE Awareness Foundation hosted a lunch for American Medical Association President-elect Dr. Patrice A. Harris and ten University of Tennessee medical students, all of whom have been taught about ACEs as part of their medical training. Dr. Harris, a psychiatrist from Atlanta, is the first African American female to hold the position of AMA president. She is a private practice physician and the chief health officer for Fulton County, and has been a public health administrator, patient advocate, and medical society lobbyist. As the Barton senior policy fellow at the Emory University School of Law, Dr. Harris has promoted public policy for abused and neglected children before the Georgia legislature and in public education programs, and has given invited lectures and presentations on children’s mental health, childhood trauma, health equity, and the intersection of athletics and health.

Dr. Harris, who assumes the role of president in June 2019, was in Memphis to give the Bluff City Medical Society’s 15th annual Dr. Robert J. Smith, Jr., Lecture. Established in the early 1900s, the Bluff City Medical Society is dedicated to promoting community health, including addressing chronic medical conditions prevalent in African American communities, and eliminating health disparities. The annual lecture has as its aim to educate and raise awareness of critical healthcare issues within the community.

During the luncheon, both Dr. Harris and Dr. Perisco Wofford, Bluff City Medical Society president, encouraged the UT medical students to pursue their passion in the medical profession, to surround themselves with coaches, mentors, and sponsors who believe in them, and to work to become leaders in their chosen field.

Said Dr. Harris, “One of my favorite leadership poems starts with, ‘Leaders are called to stand in that lonely place between the ‘no longer’ and the ‘not yet’ and intentionally make decisions that will bind, forge, move and create history. Leaders must be willing to stand in that place.


ACEAF Shares Milestones with Shelby County Delegation of Legislators

Photo courtesy of

When it comes to raising awareness around chronic stress and childhood trauma, much of our work focuses on cultivating allies among parents, practitioners, and other advocates. But a crucial dimension of our mission is to cultivate understanding and enlist support among policymakers — specifically those positioned to promote the healthy development of children in Memphis, and indeed, throughout Tennessee. That’s why we were excited to be invited to present this month to the Shelby County Delegation of state legislators at their annual meeting.

The meeting was convened by the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus and led by caucus vice-chairwoman State Senator Sara Kyle (District 30-Memphis). This year, the meeting was spread over two days in order to provide ample room for discussion. The presentations and discussions on December 17 were focused on governmental entities, while the December 18 session featured community leaders, nonprofits, and other local organizations. Executive Director Renée Wilson-Simmons updated the state officials on the progress the foundation has made in 2018 — from efforts to bring lessons from ACE innovators across the state to bear on local strategies to the recent partnership with Sesame Street in Communities to add new trauma-focused early childhood resources to those available at the Universal Parenting Places.



Mark Your Calendars

January 8, 6:00-8:00 pm Central
Better Together: The Relationship Between Trauma and Youth Justice (an Evening with Michelle Kinder)

Photo courtesy of Momentous Institute.

Having a sense of belonging is key to promoting youth resilience and their overall well being. On January 8, Stand for Children, in partnership with the ACE Awareness Foundation, Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, and National Civil Rights Museum, will host an evening discussion exploring the importance of belonging and connectedness in mitigating the effects of trauma and toxic stress. Held from 6:00-8:00 pm at the National Civil Rights Museum, the session will feature renowned expert in child mental health Michelle Kinder, executive director of the Momentous Institute in Dallas, Texas.  

A panel discussion will immediately follow, where Kinder will be joined by Dr. Demetria Frank of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Dr. Gregory Washington of the University of Memphis Center for the Advancement of Youth Development, and 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 by ACE Awareness Foundation Board President Adriane Johnson-Williams, who is special assistant to the president for strategy and planning at LeMoyne-Owens College, the interactive panel discussion will focus on how the community can come together to prevent and mitigate childhood traumatic stress.

The event is part of Stand for Children’s ongoing Educational Equity Learning Series. To RSVP, visit


January 10, 12:00-1:00 pm Central
Webinar: Unpacking ACEs and Addressing Structural Inequities

Across the country, ongoing research and growing attention continues to shed light on the critical role that experiences of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) — and the community structures, systems, and policies that drive them — play in shaping the long term health and wellbeing of children and their families across the life course. Hosted by the Networks of Opportunity for Child Wellbeing, this webinar will explore the multiple layers and systems that contribute to inequities in community experiences and outcomes shaped by early life adversities. Speakers will share how they are unpacking these layers and lift up examples of efforts underway to address these critical issues. Register at


As part of the ACE Awareness Foundation  partnership with Sesame Street in Communities, the four Universal Parenting Places in Memphis will embed new resources focused on early childhood and trauma into programming into its work with parents and their children. Below are the opportunities available for parents and caregivers in January.

Exploring Emotions
January 9, 10:30 am-12 noon Central
UPP at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women
6225 Humphreys Blvd., 5th Floor, Memphis, TN 38120

Young children are experiencing feelings big and small every day! Helping children understand and express their emotions can help build empathy for themselves and for others. Join us for a parent/child workshop centered on how children experience feelings, how to help them express their emotions in healthy ways, and how to provide support to your child when feelings are big. When children understand and know how to express their emotions, they are better able to communicate and understand others. Workshop will include fun and engaging Sesame Street in Communities resources and activities as we explore emotions!

Exploring Emotions
January 14, 12:00-2:00 pm Central
UPP at Christ Community Health Services
3481 Austin Peay Hwy., Memphis, TN 38128

Would you like to attend my Grouchy Party? It will be so much fun! Come join UPP Raleigh along with Oscar The Grouch and his friends to explore ways to positively handle our grouchy feelings and ways to identify other feelings and how to communicate this in a positive way with our family and friends. Feelings come in all shapes and sizes. When you help children express and understand their emotions, you’re helping them to overcome challenges, understand others, and communicate. In simple everyday ways, you can give them important tools that will help them handle big feelings, little ones, and every feeling in between. This workshop will be led by Tara Seay, UPP Site Director and Family Coach, who will help you and your little ones navigate their grouchy feelings.


Exploring Emotions: Talk & Tea with Mom
January 18, 11:00am-12:30 pm Central
UPP at Knowledge Quest
990 College Park Drive, Memphis, TN 38126

Talk and Tea with Mom is a support group for mothers and women who care for young children. In this support group, the focus is education, building community, and processing thoughts and emotions. This session will use Sesame Street in Communities resources to talk about simple, everyday things that moms can do to help children express their emotions in ways that will assist them in overcoming challenges, understanding others, and communicating.


Introduction to Autism Breakfast
January 23, 8:15-9:15 am Central
UPP at Perea Preschool
1250 Vollintine Ave., Memphis, TN 38107

A child in my life has autism. Now what? This breakfast will answer some basic questions caregivers may have about autism by providing resources and exploring the Sesame Street in Communities Autism Toolkit. In addition to receiving helpful information, caregivers will also get the opportunity to suggest topics to be discussed during Autism Awareness Month in April and they will get to hear stories from staff members who have personal or professional experiences working with children who fall on the autism spectrum. This breakfast, presented by Perea staff members LaBrenda Thomas, Katina Jones, Molly Crenshaw, and Latifa Newbill, aims to educate caregivers and to make them aware of the support systems available to them!