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Monday, April 15, 2024

Building a trauma-informed Yolo County

Resilient Yolo launches Adverse Childhood Experiences workshop series

By LEVI GOLDSTEIN city@theaggie.org

Content warning: This story discusses topics regarding physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect.

On Nov. 5, the non-profit organization Resilient Yolo held the first webinar in a new workshop series. The series will bring awareness to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and teach Yolo County educators, parents and other community members how to introduce ACEs initiatives into their organizations and individual family lives. 

ACEs include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect and household challenges such as mental illness, incarceration, divorce, substance abuse and partner violence. 

Positive & Adverse Childhood Experiences Connection (PACEs Connection) is a network of different organizations that are implementing ACEs initiatives, which include resilience-building practices and trauma-informed care. Resilient Yolo is the first of many county-based Resilient chapters in the PACEs network building trauma-informed communities. 

In the first Resilient Yolo workshop, “Introduction to ACEs and Resilience,” co-chairs Susan Jones and Tessa Smith explained the science behind ACEs research and the importance of becoming trauma informed. 

In 1995, Kaiser Permanente conducted a study with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which concluded that at least two thirds of the adult population has experienced childhood trauma, and that trauma is directly linked with various physical health problems and mental illnesses. 

“Unresolved trauma makes us sick, both physically and mentally,” Smith said. 

Smith is a cultural competence coordinator with the Health and Human Services Agency in Yolo County. She was first introduced to ACEs while advocating for her son and granddaughter in their public school systems, both of whom have learning disabilities. The CDC-Kaiser study coined the term “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and laid the groundwork for resilience-building and trauma-informed practices. 

The next Resilient Yolo webinar is on Jan. 7, 2022. Resilient Yolo is also preparing for their annual Building a Resilient Yolo Summit, which will be held on May 12, 2022 at Woodland Community and Senior Center. 

Resilient Yolo has already been very involved in the Yolo community. Martin Luther King Jr. High School, a continuation school in Davis that provides an alternate path to a high school diploma, has implemented ACEs initiatives in their school environment, according to Sharlese Jones, the MLK Jr. High counselor. 

“Being able to have support groups where they can be themselves and talk about issues and activism in ways that help them feel empowered is huge for our students,” Sharlese Jones said. “For a long time, a lot of them did not feel empowered. They didn’t know that they had these resources, and now they know, and it’s helping them feel stronger.” 

Sharlese Jones started working at MLK Jr. High School in 2018. She calls herself a “mother figure” to those who come to her for support. 

A nurse from CommuniCare is also at the school every Wednesday providing mental health care, medical help and access to safe sex products, cost-free for the students, according to Cristina Buss, the principal of MLK Jr. High. 

“There are clinics in Davis that the students can go to,” Buss said. “But they are not great at the follow through of ‘I will make myself an appointment and take the bus to get to the clinic to deal with the situation.’ Having resources available on campus removes that barrier. So they take care of the issue.”

Buss is a UC Davis graduate and worked as a science teacher before transitioning into administration. She got involved with ACEs while working with homeless and foster youth. She believes that helping the teachers become trauma informed is just as important as helping the students. 

“None of it works unless the teachers are doing okay,” Buss said. “We have to start by taking care of our staff so that they have the mental and emotional bandwidth to help the students be okay.”

Susan Jones, the co-chair of Resilient Yolo and founder of Creative Behavior Systems, agrees. 

“Educators are bringing their lived experiences to the table in ways that they communicate or set up systems or structures,” Susan Jones said. “Most likely, two thirds of them have also experienced some level of trauma. And oftentimes, those lived experiences create layers of oppression.” 

Smith said that it’s essential that educators are “interacting in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way that actually brings healing, and not further insecurities, not further trauma.” 

MLK Jr. High has also been involved with parents of students, according to Buss. 

“High ACEs scores are typically not isolated,” Buss said. “This stuff is generational, and the whole family is often affected. So sometimes the parents need support just as much as the kids do, if not more.”

Sharlese Jones also stresses the importance of extending trauma-informed care to the family. 

“I do find myself being that listening ear for parents just as much as I am for the students,” Sharlese Jones said. “They are trying to support their children, and they’re trying to also understand life and be able to navigate life, and be able to teach their child how to do so.”

Already ACEs initiatives are having a huge impact on the Yolo community, according to Susan Jones. 

“There’s one story that stays with me all the time,” Susan Jones said. “This mom said, ‘I’m grateful for the work that you’ve done with us, my son’s teacher, myself and my family, because not only did you change the trajectory of my son’s school experience, but you’ve also changed the generations of dysfunction that has been occurring in our family systems.’”

Buss has also seen the impact at MLK Jr. High School.

“Once [students] are part of our community, a trauma-informed community that understands the impact of ACEs, they realize it’s valuable, and they want to be part of it,” Buss said. “Slowly building them up, watching them gain confidence as students, watching them start to feel comfortable, and then eventually getting all the way through to graduation, is so cool. […] They’re taking ownership of their own education. I think that’s the biggest thing.”


Yolo County residents can access the workshops and materials on adverse childhood experiences here. Educational and informative resources on adverse childhood experiences can also be found at the PACEs Connection website


Written by: Levi Goldstein — city@theaggie.org


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