Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative

BOONE — After having to cancel its annual conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative has launched a new Wednesday Conversation project to continue conversations around trauma and resiliency.

WCCI Chair Denise Presnell said the idea for the weekly WCCI Wednesday Conversations was an idea sparked before the pandemic started, but that the recent times have highlighted the need to continue conversations about trauma. She said families are struggling with job loss, financial difficulties, food insecurity and possibly stress about their child’s education.

“This has impacted us all,” Presnell said. “You’re hardly immune to stress, difficulties and challenges that this brings us. Even for people who maybe didn’t understand where we were coming from or how impactful trauma and resiliency can be, (the pandemic) gave you a first row seat as this is a current thing we all deal with.”

WCCI had to cancel its annual WCCI Conference that would’ve taken place in May due to concerns with COVID-19. The group then saw the opportunity to help the community make more connections and find support during a time when many are feeling isolated and disconnected. The group plans to host a conversation via Zoom from noon to 1 p.m. each Wednesday starting Aug. 12 and scheduled through Dec. 16. Topics range from individuals sharing their own trauma to agencies providing information on how they aid the community.

“It’s like a mini conference through the year with different things we would’ve offered at the conference if we had got to have it,” Presnell said.

Laura and JB Byrch are offering a WCCI Wednesday Conversation session on Sept. 2 to talk about trauma support outside of a professional setting. Laura Byrch said the topic is important because building a resilient community can’t just be left up to professionals as “we all have a part to play.”

“As we’ve thought about resiliency in our own lives and listened to the stories of others, it has often been neighbors, supervisors, church leaders and coaches that play a critical role in helping a child — or an adult — buffer stress on a day-to-day basis,” Byrch said. “By paying attention, listening and showing care, these community members can often be key influencers in a person’s life. We can do this for others by reinforcing that they matter, are seen and that we believe they can have a bright and thriving future, whatever that might look like.”

During the Sept. 2 workshop, the Byrchs will share tips and ways to support others in everyday settings while inviting participants to think about key people in their lives who have been supportive and who they might have an opportunity to support.

“For me, as a leader in a local faith community, it’s important to remind folks that we need professionals and they play an important role, but there are also ways that we can each have a huge impact in creating a more resilient community by connecting with others, checking in and offering support to those around us,” Byrch said.

Susan Weinberg will present “The Bad: One Family’s Story of Meth in the Mountains” as featured in the book “From the Frontlines of the Appalachian Addiction Crisis” on Nov. 11. Weinberg helped to contribute to the book by interviewing a psychiatric professional and a recovering addict — both from the region. She said the Nov. 11 Wednesday Conversation will feature discussions about the content in the book that will offer “an inside view” of addiction and the struggles that comes with it.

“I think it’s very rare to get a first-hand look from the inside of what it’s like to experience an addiction that really ruins your life and come back out of it again,” Weinberg said. “It’s a glimpse into something people know is there that they shy away from or not want to look too far into.”

For more information on the Wednesday Conversations and the topics presented each week, visit www.wataugacci.org.

Presnell said WCCI is planning for its next annual conference on April 24, 2021, at Watauga High School. With the hope of not having to cancel the conference again, the group is preparing plans for an in-person conference as well as an all-virtual conference.

WCCI participants continued to meet via Zoom throughout the pandemic to check in with each other, receive updates on each other’s agencies and see how else the group’s mission can be furthered. Presnell said WCCI has also been discussing national events concerning racial injustice, and have incorporated language acknowledging and denouncing racism into its mission and purpose. The group’s next Zoom meeting will take place on Aug. 13.

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