Resilience Trumps ACEs

This past week has been marked by some seriously sad stories coming from our teen employees, the StreetLeaders. I’ve been giving them brief physicals for work; of course all their blood pressures are ok, their hearts are regular and their lungs are clear. But that doesn’t tell you much about their health. At least not long term health. I made sure to ask them about their sleep and stress levels too – along with coping mechanisms – and out poured stories of parents with terminal illnesses, of sisters being abused and of not enough food at the house. Those were the stories that some were willing to share. I could see that others were holding back.

This is consistent with the blog I wrote last week, citing the results of the ACEs plus (Adverse Childhood Experiences) survey I gave to 92 teens, thanks to grant support from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey (@HorizonBCBSNJ), which showed that 60% of our youth 14 and up have already lost a loved one to accident or illness. That 49% have a family member who has been incarcerated…leading to even more profound poverty at home. The numbers are numbing – some of our youth are numb, too – a common response to trauma.

So what does one do about this? Certainly if a youth is in imminent danger we call the child protection services. But so many of our youth live in a gray zone – those services may already be initiated, but the child isn’t removed from the home, and hunger from food insecurity doesn’t warrant an emergency response from our government agencies. Looking at the research available on how to help youth with high ACEs, there is no one answer. There is a knowledge gap here – ask the questions, then what? But that doesn’t mean that their aren’t answers. And one of the strongest is to promote RESILIENCE in our youth.

Resilience: the ability to get through adversity intact. I want more than intact. I want healthy and whole and empowered. I want successful and wise and self-assured. Much of the funding from our Horizon grant has gone toward developing curriculum specifically designed to help our UrbanPromise staff promote resilience. Working with a curriculum design expert out of Chicago, we developed an evidence-based approach to resilience made up of 3 parts: what resilience at UrbanPromise looks like, emotional intelligence and the ability to have tough conversations.

My vision is to see all of UrbanPromise – our schools, our after school programs, our teen employment programs, UrbanTrekkers and Boatworks – everyone – on the same page with regard to our approach to traumatized youth. So that we are even more of a healing environment, a place where it is safe to tell your story and where you can trust you will get the help you need. It’s building on the relational foundation already so present at this special ministry in Camden.

Training has started in multiple departments and so far so good – we are hearing things like, “This is going to be a game changer.” And, “I never really understood resilience before but now I get why it’s so important.” We expect to be completed by the end of November…and our youth will be reaping the benefits, I believe, with every important discussion stemming from this training.resilience at up.jpeg

The UrbanPromise Resilience Model


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