Group discussion

Amie Sigmann (left) talks during a group discussion alongside Candy Jones, Ruthie Styles and Kyle Sigmon.

BOONE — Riding on the momentum from its forum event in April, the Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative is making plans for the next year.

WCCI is a group that formed as a result of the 2017 State of the Child Forum. The group aims to help Watauga County become a compassionate community and trauma informed.

WCCI Chairwoman Denise Presnell said that the group is in the beginning stages of applying for a Blue Cross Blue Shield grant that encourages addressing community barriers through collaboration. She said the group’s letter of intent to BCBS was accepted, meaning WCCI can now submit a grant proposal.

If the grant proposal were to be accepted, WCCI would be in a transition phase for the next couple of years to become a program that would be under an umbrella of an existing agency in the county. That agency would then run WCCI as its program with a possible program coordinator.

The 2017 State of the Child Forum transitioned into the State of the Child/State of the Community forum this year, to focus on trauma across the lifespan. WCCI has decided to transition the forum name to the WCCI Conference over the next couple of years to be able to encompass all of the trauma education it hopes to accomplish.

“We’re still doing a lot of trauma education,” Presnell said. “We don’t feel like we’re to the point yet where when you talk about trauma and resiliency, that the whole community or whole county nods their head the same way. We’re still in the awareness and education phase.”

The next WCCI Conference is planned for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 4, 2019, at Watauga High School. With approximately 350 attending the 2017 event and about 330 this year, Presnell said the group is shooting for about 500 to 600 attendees for 2019.

Presnell said WCCI decided to open the event up to a Saturday time slot as well as a bigger location to allow as many people to attend as would want to. The weekend would allow child care center providers as well as educators to be able to attend without having to close down child care centers or find substitutes for during the week.

There’s also been talk amongst the group of possibly providing stipends for parents who would like to attend who need to find child care or take off of work.

The theme for the 2019 WCCI Conference is set to be “What’s strong in you?”

Presnell said the first year of the event was kind of like a kickoff to get everyone talking with common language on the matter; this year centered around preventing trauma and building resiliency. With the community knowing a little more about trauma and speaking more of the language, Presnell said the event will focus on helping people thrive in resiliency.

Presnell stated that the question going into the conference will be, “How do we as a community help people — not just children but adults as well — build those resiliency skills so they can offset whatever traumas they’ve been through and create a more successful life for themselves?”

Shelly Klutz, lead school nurse at Watauga County Schools, served as this year’s forum morning speaker. Prensell said WCCI has gotten a large amount of positive response to having someone from the community speak on their own trauma experiences.

“Some of the feedback we got was that it was so powerful,” Presnell said. “It was somebody from our community who can talk about what this community has done for them in their recovery from trauma.”

The group has decided to continue this idea by having another local person speak about what trauma she comes from, where she is now, the skills that she’s developed coming through her trauma to become a successful adult and following the theme of “what’s strong in you.”

WCCI is hoping to engage more parents in the group and the conference by reaching out to them and explaining what this movement compassionate community movement is and getting more parents on board, Presnell said. Presnell said WCCI wants parents to be equally as represented as service providers in their group.

Presnell said WCCI would especially like to be more involved with parents who are currently affected by adverse childhood experiences and trauma — including domestic violence, addiction, incarceration and poverty.

“It’s a profound shift for some of these people who have felt like they were really struggling with being successful or making good choices to understand that trauma affects the way you think about everything,” Presnell said. “Watching their perception shift from ‘there’s something wrong with me’ to ‘there’s some unresolved stuff for me,’ that’s been really amazing.”

Presnell expressed that getting parents involved — either with or without adverse childhood experiences —in the WCCI group and conversation is an important component in the community becoming trauma informed. For when trauma goes unresolved, often times those are the people that form addiction issues, have higher rates of child abuse as the perpetrators, experience domestic violence and have higher rates of unemployment, homelessness and mental illness, according to Presnell.

“You have children with trauma who grow up into adults with unresolved trauma who then can’t or (are) unable to make better decisions to create better lives for their children who then live in trauma and stress.”

While WCCI isn’t meeting over the summer, Presnell said group members will each receive a welcome packet when they reconvene in August. Members will be asked to use these welcome packets to personally invite one parent that’s currently affected by adverse childhood experiences to come be part of the group.

Presnell stated that the WCCI Conference would allow for three tracks — a track for the general community/parents (trauma 101-type general information classes) a service provider track (for those who already know trauma and resiliency and inform them what to do next) and a track for educators (education on trauma in the classroom and practical classroom strategies). The 2019 conference would offer about 16 classes, versus the eight offered this year at the event.

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