At Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, a first-floor chapel with a raised ceiling, generous windows and a carpeted central area is the site for twice-weekly guided meditation open to staff, patients and family members.
In Kansas City’s Crossroads Art District, the building that houses Truman Medical Centers (TMC) Behavioral Health includes conference rooms called “Jazz” and “Vine,” located so that people can reach them without passing through clinical space, interrupting patients or breaching confidentiality.
And at Synergy Services, which provides shelter and support for children who have survived abuse, neglect and family disruption, the new Children’s Center incorporates open porches and courtyards that invite kids to explore and play.
“If we’re going to be sensitive to what has happened to the children, then before anyone even says anything, I want them to feel like this is a welcoming, safe place,” says Dennis Meier, associate executive director of clinical services at Synergy and chair of Resilient KC’s steering committee.
In a video on the Resilient KC website, police officer Mikki Cassidy notes that “my regular day is everybody else’s worst day.” Then she describes how mindfulness training has helped her find peace amid the clamor: “This moment, right here, I’m okay.”
Later in the clip, Sonia Warshawski, a Holocaust survivor, recalls being shoved onto a train to Treblinka and, later, losing her mother to the gas chamber. “One of my highest points is when I speak in schools, when students tell me, ‘You changed my life,’” she says.
And Josiah Hoskins, a youth raised in foster care, talks about the mantra that helped him survive: “Even if all you have is yourself, with a wall behind you and the world coming at you, you can make peace with yourself.”
The video concludes with four words—“Stories Matter. What’s yours?”—and an invitation for others to share experiences of adversity and healing.
The campaign is just one prong of Kansas City’s multi-sector effort to raise awareness about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and build resilience on both sides of the state line. In the first year of the Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) grant, Resilient KC—a partnership between the pre-existing Trauma Matters Kansas City (TMKC) network and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce—has worked to cultivate “ambassadors” who can bring the ACEs message to colleagues, clients and community members in business, the armed services, education, justice and health care.
In 2011, a youth needs assessment of the Kansas City metro area included surveys of pediatricians and school nurses, mental health providers and teenagers, pre-school teachers and parents.
“No matter what discipline was represented, trauma and toxic stress kept coming up,” said Marsha Morgan, Chief Operating Officer of Truman Medical Center’s Department of Behavioral Health. “It was clear that we had to do something. We had to make this a community issue.”
The needs assessment showed that more than 6,000 children in the Kansas City metro area were in treatment for serious emotional disorders; more than 3,000 were in foster care. In a region that was home to two million people, 15% lived in areas of poverty and violent crime.
Initially, six organizations came together, calling themselves Trauma Matters Kansas City (TMKC). They developed a mission statement and a vision: “to promote strategies for building resilience in communities affected by trauma, and to work collectively to successfully build that resilience across the metropolitan region,” according to the coalition’s MARC proposal.
Now TMKC is a multi-system, bi-state (Missouri and Kansas) network that includes 40 organizations representing human services, health, criminal justice, law enforcement, education, government and community members.
The Health Federation of Philadelphia serves as a keystone supporting a network of Community Health Centers as well as the broader base of public and private-sector organizations that deliver health and human services to vulnerable populations.