BOONE — A community coming together to heal and support each other through trauma is the main message for the fourth year of the WCCI Conference.

The Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative is hosting the event — formerly known as the State of the Child/State of the Community — from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 16, 2020, at Watauga High School. Registration for the event opens Feb. 1.

The overarching theme is “community is the solution,” as WCCI’s goal is to create a trauma-informed community. Presnell said it has been shown that a relationship with a positive, consistent and caring adult can offset trauma in a child’s life.

Offsetting trauma is crucial, as unresolved trauma in a child’s life has been linked to higher rates of incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction and domestic violence, as Presnell has previously said.

WCCI is a group that formed as a result of the first State of the Child Forum in 2017. Since then the group continues to see growth with about 60 to 70 people in attendance at its monthly meetings. It outgrew its meeting space at the Watauga Department of Social Services and now meets at the Deerfield United Methodist Church.

WCCI Chair Denise Presnell has been involved in the conference’s planning since its start. She said she’ll know WCCI has reached its goal when she can stop anyone on the street and their answer be “yes” when she asks if they know about trauma, resiliency and Adverse Childhood Experiences.

“We’re still in this very strange place of 400 to 600 people who are on fire and passionate with a strong momentum right now at the crest of a wave,” Presnell said. “Then you step across the hall and mention it to somebody and get a blank look on their face. We’ve done so much work in these four years, and there’s still some pockets of people who have never heard about any of this.”

The 2019 conference welcomed 550 people for the event, with the hopes of reaching about 600 in 2020.

The 2020 conference will follow a similar format to past years — classes attendees can sign up for, lunch and keynote speakers. Based on previous feedback, the conference this year will likely have attendees sign up for three classes instead of four. Feedback also requested a smaller class list to choose from, and Presnell said WCCI is trying to narrow down class choices.

The event will feature different “tracks” for people to take geared toward different groups — such as a track for teen participants, Hispanic community members, teachers, faith community members and general public attendees. These tracks would help guide people into choosing which classes would be pertinent to them.

These classes may be on topics ranging from faith community members learning how to disclose a sexual assault report, a law enforcement panel, trauma 101, incorporating animals into a clinical practice and information on foster care. Each class is encouraged to follow the conference theme.

“We hope to have a wide variety of classes that appeal to a lot of different people,” Presnell said.

Presnell said that the group has noticed that more women than men become involved in the conference as well as WCCI in general. It has been having conversations on how to get men more involved in the trauma informed movement, and had thoughts of conducting a men’s panel on how they view trauma and resiliency.

Lunch will be provided by Reid’s Catering. While half of the attendees will be at lunch, the other half will be able to enjoy an information fair where various agencies will be available for questions and to hand out materials.

The morning speaker will be Brandon Wrencher, the former pastor of Blackburn’s Chapel in Todd who now serves in Greensboro, Presnell said. Wrencher is a community activist, pastor and blogger on relationships, race and communities. Presnell said she admires Wrencher’s commitment to equality, equity, relationships and community development.

In the afternoon, attendees will hear from Allison Sampson Jackson, a motivational speaker and CEO of Integration Solutions — an organization that raises awareness about trauma and resiliency. Presnell said a member of WCCI’s planning team watched a TED Talk by Jackson, and the group felt that the Watauga community could benefit from hearing her speak.

Tickets for the conference are $25, with money going toward the purchase of programs, lunch and facilities help from custodians and other staff. Presnell said in all, it takes around $12,000 to put on the conference. The group is also looking at ways that participants can elect to give more than $25 to help pay for others’ admission, so no one feels as if they can’t attend the conference because of the ticket price.

Aside from planning the conference, WCCI is also trying to expand its outreach efforts. With the help of its members, volunteers and Appalachian State University students, the group conducts presentations about trauma and resiliency to different local groups. It has reached out to faith community leaders, law enforcement, the business community and in the past six months has started discussions with workers in the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

Presnell said that group does see some communication gaps, and is trying to connect with parents and those with ACEs to disseminate its information.

For more information on WCCI and its conference, visit wataugacci.weebly.com.

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