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Recapping Our Spring Gathering

On the sunny afternoon of May 24th, around 50 people filled the Woodstock Seventh Day Adventist Church for our Spring Gathering. Thanks to everyone who shared the evening with us! It was a great chance to hear about opportunities coming our way, as well as to hear from partners about some truly inspiring work being done to build health and wellness for our young people.

Jim Douglas helped to kick off the event by reflecting on some recent health data, including the 2018 County Health Rankings. These annual rankings helped to gather people together to form the Wellness Collaborative back in 2011. Back then, we were

dead last for county health. We've been slowly rising in the ranks, and saw our best ranking ever this year: we're currently the sixth healthiest county in Maine! You can dig into the different factors that impact this score at the County Health Ranking website. Jim explained that in small counties like ours, little year-to-year differences like one vehicle crash that claims the lives of a couple of young people can result in big changes in the rankings. Because of that, we need to be looking at other ways of tracking whether we're moving in the right direction. On of ways we do this is by looking at InsightVision, a tool that tracks important measures related to our members' health concerns and their work together to improve health. You can see some of the things we're tracking by looking at the Scorecards on our website. You can find one example related to Healthy Food work by scrolling down on this page.

Melissa Wakefield took the stage to present on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the importance of building trauma-informed environments to better help children become more resilient when facing trauma. There has been tons of research around ACEs, which points to the fact that children who have suffered trauma, and who don't have the opportunity to heal from that trauma, will be more likely to suffer from poor health later in life or to have an early death. The original ACEs study tracked the health of thousands of people and examined the connection between health and a person's "ACE score." The ACE scores were determined by asking about 10 different possible sources of trauma, and included things like neglect, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, whether a household member had mental illness, and whether a parent was incarcerated. The findings clearly showed that the higher a person's ACE score, the more likely they were to have health problems. For instance, a person with an ACE score of 4 or more is 15 times more likely to commit suicide, and a person with a score of 6 or more has an average life expectancy that is 20 years shorter. The study also found that ACEs are incredibly common. About 2/3 of adults have an ACE score of 1, and the majority of people who report 1 ACE report more than 1. About 20% of adults have experienced 3+ ACEs. These findings have been the foundation for a group of concerned individuals from across the county to come together and help our youth by building "Resiliency"--our ability to heal from and overcome adversity. We watched a short video together called "How Resilience Is Built" which you can find here:

When we face adversity, neither resilience or poor health is a guarantee. Melissa explained that we can help our young people to build resilience with little things like encouraging kindness, telling them how valuable they are, and changing our perspective. For instance, children may act out as a symptom of the trauma they've experienced, maybe because it's difficult for them to regulate their emotions and behavior. When we're in this situation, we can change our thinking from,

“What’s wrong with him/her?”


“I wonder what might be happening for this person.”

Each of us has the capacity to make a difference in the life of a young person. One connection to a caring adult can make the difference in a child's life, Melissa explained.

We took a break for dinner, which came from Daddy-O's diner in Oxford, a community-minded restaurant which has hosted many community dinners, where people pay on a sliding scale for the meal and all of the proceeds go to a local charity. They've raised thousands of dollars this way for many great causes.

Reconvening after dinner, we shifted to learn about local action to address ACEs. In 2017 the Oxford County Resiliency Project (OCRP) started training school staff across Oxford County around ACEs and Resilience in efforts to increase awareness of the topics and support the educators who are supporting children. OCRP counts many partners, from school staff to social service agencies to after school programs and more, and includes members of OCWC's Behavioral Health and Community Safety Workgroups. Stephanie Leblanc, the facilitator of OCRP, presented on the beginning of the group's work and what the future of this project has in store.

The group has had great success over the past year, which focused mostly on middle schools. According to data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, Oxford County middle school students face some significant challenges: nearly 16% of middle school students have considered suicide, 20% show markers for depression, and 40% don't feel as though they matter to their communities. These statistics are especially concerning for middle school girls, who show higher rates of suicidality and depression and lower rates of feeling connected to their communities. Stephanie explained that a major focus of the work was to develop a Resilience Survey that could begin to identify what resilience factors students have, or don't, and inform efforts to build resilience within students. The survey asks about things like whether a student knows how to set goals and take steps to achieve them, whether they feel safe at school, if they have an adult they can talk to at school, if they feel understood, if they believe in themselves, etc. The majority of Oxford County middle schools have integrated this survey, which is completed anonymously by students on computers at school.

It was identified early on that the capacity for teachers to help students with behavioral or emotional needs was a barrier for students to get the appropriate help they needed. OCRP has worked to connect schools with resources, like embedded clinicians, to address this need. Other gaps that were identified were the lack of knowledge around the impact of ACEs, and teachers who are pushed to meet proficiency-based educational standards leaving no room to support the students who needed it the most. Future goals for the group's work includes creating and sustaining more trauma-informed environments within all schools around Oxford County.

Next we heard from a panel of community partners engaged in the work around ACEs and Resilience.

Allie Burke oversees River Valley Rising, a Drug Free Community grant initiative for the River Valley region. She explained that the connection to her work is obvious--that young people who experience more trauma and don't have the opportunity to heal from it are much more likely to engage in the substance use that she is trying to prevent.

Susan Parker from Tri-County Mental Health has been involved in this work for years now, long before initiatives had organized around it. For her, being involved is tremendously affirming and helpful. Susan has found great relief in knowing that she's not alone in her concern for this topic or desire to see it addressed effectively. She works to support families, many of them impacted by ACEs, and knows that broadened community awareness of, and attention to, this topic is needed to produce better outcomes for the people she helps.

Beth Clarke is the principal of Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris, where she's been leading incredible work to build a trauma-informed environment. Beth shared pictures of the many practices they've put into place: the school-based food pantry to alleviate the hunger that can often get in the way of learning, the entire school gathered at the flagpole in the morning to sing together and celebrate a peer or staff member for their contributions (seen below), the spaces where students can take a short break and reset themselves for more learning. She credits her connection to Stephanie and the OCRP for helping with this work.

We had planned for small group discussions to explore the ideas that people had for concrete actions that they could take to build Resilience for one person in their life or community, but we were running short on time. Instead, we encouraged folks to take this home with them, think about it, and have conversations with their friends, family, loved ones, coworkers, etc.

We closed the night by quickly reviewing several upcoming opportunities:

  • Community Health Needs Assessment forums will provide a chance to learn about recent health data showing the health of our communities, and to talk about whether the health priorities suggested by the data are the same as those priorities we see as community members. Forums will take place...

  • October 10, 5:00-8:00pm, River Valley

  • October 22, 5:30-7:30pm, Oxford Hills

  • The Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative (WMARI) is seeking applicants for Recovery Coaches. These volunteers will receive a free training to prepare them to help support Project Save ME, an initiative to connect people seeking treatment for Substance Use Disorder to the help they need. More information is available here.

  • WMARI's third annual Western Maine Recovery Rally will take place on Saturday, September 22 in Norway and Paris. Save the date!

  • OCWC's popular Restorative Community Training will be offered at the Alan Day Community Garden in Norway on June 26th. To register or for more info, call Emily Knapp at 739-6222. More info is also available on Facebook.

  • Dr. Neil Korsen of the Maine Medical Center Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluations shared an opportunity for OCWC members who are connected to Stephens Memorial Hospital (SMH) to be part of community-engaged rural health research focused on making improvements to patient and community health outcomes. SMH was chosen as the first site to implement this grant-funded initiative. A symposium (registration has closed-sorry!) will occur on June 19th as the first of several opportunities to become involved. If interested in future opportunities, please contact Jim Douglas at Healthy Oxford Hills.

  • Upcoming funding opportunities are being shared in our monthly newsletter. Not receiving them? Contact Emily Knapp to find out how! We also list funding resources in a handy-dandy table on our website. Check it out here.

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