2018 Building Strong Brains Tennessee ACEs Summit Honors Champions in Addressing Chronic Trauma

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam looks on as First Lady Crissy Haslam addresses the annual Building Strong Brains Tennessee ACEs Summit, held at the Country Music Hall of Fame on September 11. Photo courtesy of Governor Bill Haslam/Flickr.com

State and local advocates from across Tennessee convened in Nashville on September 11 for the annual Building Strong Brains Tennessee ACEs Summit, held at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Hosted by the offices of Governor Bill Haslam, First Lady Crissy Haslam, and Deputy Governor Jim Henry, the 2018 summit was designed to spotlight initiatives happening across the state to support the healthy development of children and their families. It was also an opportunity to honor the trailblazing work of Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam to ensure brighter futures for thousands of children, their families, and the communities in which they live.

With the Building Strong Brains Tennessee Coordinating TeamACE Awareness Foundation, and Casey Family Programs as event partners, the summit featured three keynote addresses by presenters renowned for their cutting-edge perspectives on emerging brain and communications science related to ACEs. The speakers included Frameworks Institute CEO Nat Kendall-Taylor, Harvard University Center on the Developing Child Deputy Director and Chief Knowledge Officer Al Race, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Senior Vice President Donald Schwarz.

From left to right: Tennessee Committee on Children and Youth (TCCY) Executive Director Richard Kennedy, Tennessee Deputy Governor Jim Henry, ACEAF consultant and founding board member Barbara Nixon, ACEAF current board member Adriane Johnson-Williams, Casey Family Programs Senior Director Frederic Simmens, former TCCY Executive Director Lynda Neal, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Health Advocacy Director Mary Rolando, and Healing Trust President/CEO Kristen Keely-Dinger.

The event also gave attendees the opportunity to celebrate a number of leaders whose unyielding work on ACE-related issues has been cited as instrumental in propelling Tennessee’s progress toward trauma awareness and action. Governor Haslam and First Lady Haslam were both recognized as champions within the movement to address ACEs, as were ACE Awareness Foundation board member Adriane Johnson-Williams and consultant Barbara Nixon (also of the Shelby County ACE Task Force). Summit organizers also honored the following advocates and organizations for their work:

  • Deputy Governor Jim Henry
  • Tennessee State Senator Mark Norris
  • Casey Family Programs Senior Director Frederic Simmens and Managing Director Zeinab Chahine
  • Former Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth Executive Director Linda O’Neal
  • Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Health Advocacy Director Mary Rolando
  • The Healing Trust President and CEO Kristen Keely-Dinger

Materials from the summit, including keynote PowerPoint presentations and videos, will be posted on the Building Strong Brains Tennessee portion of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth’s website.


Tennessee First Lady Releases Report on Child Health and Wellness-Focused Policy

Available for download at https://bit.ly/2x55AYm, a report commissioned by the Office of Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam this month chronicles state progress on child and family development.

A highlight of the 2018 Building Strong Brains Tennessee Summit was the release of Prioritizing Tennessee’s Children: Our Promise to Future Generations, a report commissioned by Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam to highlight the progress made by state agencies, the ACE Awareness Foundation, the Universal Parenting Places, and other partner organizations to improve the lives of children and families across the state. The report reflects an early commitment by Governor Bill Haslam’s administration to make the health and success of all Tennessee children a state priority.

In conjunction with Governor Haslam’s Children’s Cabinet and Deputy Governor Jim Henry, First Lady Haslam set out to create a tangible summary of the progress made in state government to holistically support the development of children and families during her husband’s tenure. Beginning with the formation of the Children’s Cabinet, the report tells the story of departments and organizations engaging in inter-agency collaboration to focus on creating positive outcomes for the state’s youngest citizens, from birth to workforce entry and beyond. It also acknowledges the work of the ACE Awareness Foundation to increase public understanding of childhood trauma and identify innovative strategies that prevent toxic stress or lessen its effects on children and their families.

In a statement released with the report, First Lady Haslam declared, “It is crucial to recognize how far we have come as a state in protecting and prioritizing our children and families, so that we might understand the importance of this work and capitalize on our momentum moving forward.”

ACE Awareness Foundation executive director Renée Wilson-Simmons who moderated the summit applauded the Haslams as champions of the effort to make trauma-informed policy a priority across Tennessee’s agencies.

“Under the capable leadership of Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam, Tennessee has become a national model for applyingto preventing and mitigating the effects of childhood trauma,” said Wilson-Simmons. “We will be forever grateful to Governor and Mrs. Haslam for their trailblazing work, which has ensured brighter futures for thousands of children and families in our state.”

The report can be viewed and downloaded on First Lady Haslam’s website at: https://bit.ly/2x55AYm


Scaling Up: How Johnson City, Tennessee, Became a National Model for ACE Collaboration

From left to right: ACEAF’s Ebony Bailey, Johnson City presenters Becky Haas and Dr. Andi Clements, and ACEAF’s Frank Jemison. Photo courtesy of Frank Jemison


When it comes to lifting up partnerships leading the national trend toward trauma-informed approaches, the spotlight often lands on work taking place in larger cities like Memphis and Nashville. But we can’t afford to ignore the important and instructive work happening in smaller towns. For example, Johnson City in East Tennessee has become a national model for communities working across sectors to prevent and mitigate childhood trauma.

Earlier this month, the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hosted a conference there to showcase the city’s progress and help others learn from its efforts to move from awareness to action. ACE Awareness Foundation Clinical Director Ebony Bailey and Director of Education Outreach Frank Jemison offered a few highlights from the conference, and their observations on how others might learn from the Johnson City model for raising ACE awareness.

Attendees at the September 5 SAMHSA conference listened to presentations on moving communities from awareness of trauma toward an action agenda. Photo courtesy of Ebony Bailey.

“Over the past four years, under the leadership of Becky Haas, Community Crime Prevention Programs Specialist for the Johnson City Police Department, and East Tennessee State University psychology professor Dr. Andi D. Clements, Johnson City has quietly built an incredible model for connecting and championing trauma-informed systems of care,” Jemison said.

He added that the conference, named “Moving from Understanding to Implementing Trauma-Responsive Service,” showcased the city’s transformation through presentations by national experts and local practitioners on moving from understanding ACEs toward implementing trauma-informed policies and delivering trauma-responsive services.

The following are a few highlights from the day’s agenda:

  • Joan Gillece, director of SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care, spoke about the central role of caring relationships in delivering trauma-informed care, explaining that ACE awareness is the first step towards becoming trauma-informed, but that being truly trauma-informed means changing policies and practices.
  • Becky Haas and Dr. Andi Clements shared the history of their work in Johnson City, and how they recruited partners across sectors — including in higher education, health care, law enforcement, mental health, family services, K12 education, and foster services — to develop an action-oriented ACE awareness training.
  • Finally, First Lady Haslam and Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Health Advocacy Director Mary Rolando closed the day by discussing how Johnson City’s efforts fit within and inform the Building Strong Brains Tennessee initiative and the state’s broader efforts to become trauma-informed.

Calling the presentations “impressive, informative, and inspiring,” Bailey added that the most important takeaway had to do with scaling the Johnson City model to help tackle some of the thornier issues faced in larger communities.

“Johnson City’s work can absolutely help guide our work in Memphis, as we seek to increase ACE awareness and move ourselves and partners toward action,” she said. “The speakers challenged us all to engage uncommon partners as we try to address root causes of ACEs, do more to identify empower potential champions, and recognize that this work is a journey and should always have room to evolve.”


Annual Convening on Mental Health, Education Challenges Leaders to Create Inclusive Communities

Several ACE Awareness Foundation and Universal Parenting Place (UPP) staff traveled to Dallas, Texas, to attend the Momentous Institute 2018 Changing the Odds conference on September 27-28.  The Momentous Institute was established in 1920 by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, a service organization that is currently comprised of more than 600 business and community leaders committed to promoting the social emotional health of the city’s children by providing therapeutic and education services.

“The conference theme of belonging was the thread that weaved the conference presentations together beautifully,” said Molly Crenshaw, LCSW, parent coach and counselor at UPP Perea Preschool in Memphis. She added, “From the inspiring keynote by Father Greg Boyle — a leader in gang intervention — to Harvard scholar David Williams’ presentation on creating inclusive and accepting environments for all children, and University of Maryland Professor Brenda Jones Hardin’s address on the developmental and mental health needs of young children, this was a thought-provoking and community-building experience.”

The 2019 conference will be held October 24-25 in Dallas and include such speakers as journalist Lisa Ling, Three Little Words author Ashley Rhodes-Courter, and Howard C. Stevenson, director of Forward Promise, a national program office funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to provide philanthropic support for organizations designed to improve the health of boys and young men of color and their families and to help them heal from the trauma.


Mark Your Calendars

October 18, 3:00 pm-4:30 pm Eastern
This is Your Brain on Drugs. This is Your Brain on Trauma.

Many of us remember the PSA: This is Your Brain on Drugs. Although the “war on drugs” has had many unintended negative consequences, we remember the egg in the skillet—a powerful image connecting brain function to drug use. Since the 80s we’ve learned much about the effects of both trauma and opioids on brain structure and chemistry.

On October 18, the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP) will host a webinar exploring the surprisingly similar effects of trauma and opioids on the brain. The session will be presented by Fred Rottnek, MD, of the St. Louis University Medical School and Sean Marz, MA, from Alive and Well Communities. Dr. David Shern will facilitate a discussion on ways to engage clients, colleagues, and policymakers on the basic science of trauma and addiction, as well as medications and therapeutic interventions. The webinar is part of an ongoing series on trauma, opioids, and domestic violence. For registration information: http://ncdvtmh.webex.com/