When Reverend Tyler Amundson first read the 1998 ACE study, he realized that this landmark science could become a common language: a way to talk about adversity and healing with clinicians and government officials, devout churchgoers and people who would never step inside a place of worship.
“I call this the secular gospel,” he says. “It was easy to describe the ACE study to people. It opened a door for us to name how people face trauma and adversity and how positive relationships can help shift those realities.”
When Tina Eblen and Todd Garrison led an ACE training at the Fort Peck Reservation, home to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, they heard stories of “gut-wrenching” trauma so pervasive it seemed commonplace.
“Some people told us, when they were taking the ACE questionnaire, ‘Gosh, I thought these things were just normal,’” says Eblen, MARC coordinator for Elevate Montana, an ACE-informed statewide initiative launched in 2013 by the ChildWise Institute, a non-profit that focuses on child well-being.
Elevate Montana offered to train school staff in Fort Peck. The invitation was avidly embraced by the new superintendent in Brockton, a tiny community within reservation boundaries. This response convinced Eblen and Garrison, executive director of ChildWise Institute, that this area was ripe for change.
“The superintendent is gung-ho with ACEs and becoming trauma-informed,” Eblen says. “She talked about incorporating ACEs knowledge into one of the high school classes. She walked into this community and went to every household and introduced herself. She said, ‘The kids need respect from us in order to learn how to respect others.’”
Todd Garrison’s background was in venture capital, sales and marketing. So when he heard a presentation in 2008 by Rob Anda, co-investigator of the original ACE Study, the facts and figures caught his notice.
“It wasn’t personal for me, though I have three ACEs myself,” said Garrison, now Executive Director of the ChildWise Institute, a four-year-old non-profit that focuses on child well-being. “The brain science is undeniable. That was the ‘aha’ moment for me.”
Since then, he has watched others across the state—teachers and nurses, mental health counselors and school bus drivers—wake up to the understanding of childhood adversity and its lifelong impact.
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.