By Sherrie Norris
Registration began February 1 for the May 4 State of the Child, State of the Community Event, hosted by the Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative.
This year’s conference will be held from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Watauga High School with space to accommodate at least 600 attendees and offering four sessions of classes, with 18 possible class topics from which to choose.
Cost for the event is only $25 and includes a full day of informative presentations, inspiring speeches, a delicious lunch by Reid’s Catering and more.
This year’s event theme, “What’s Strong in You?” will help participants explore ways to not only identify, but also be able to overcome, some of life’s greatest challenges — not only for themselves, but also for those with whom they work on a daily basis.
School personnel, family therapists, law enforcement, medical professionals and other community servants, as part of the WCCI, have been working diligently to organize this event, stemming from two previous similar and successful conferences.
“We’ve been meeting once a month, planning and trying to explore ideas and increase awareness and interest in the conference,” said Denise Presnell, local school social worker who spearheads the committee
For the last three years, WCCI has been working tirelessly, it seems, to lead Watauga County toward a healthier, more compassionate community as it strives to prevent trauma and build resiliency, initially focusing on the younger generation.
It is hoped that the upcoming event, scheduled for a Saturday, in a larger, more conducive classroom setting, will not only attract more participants and presenters, but will also be more convenient for childcare workers, educators and parents to attend.
The overarching theme, from the conference’s beginning — “Preventing Trauma and Building Resiliency” — is a concept that is quickly growing; Watauga County is leading the way, it seems, for others across the state, as those community leaders and educators inquire on a regular basis about the initiative and seek to follow the example of Watauga’s success.
It all started in the fall of 2016 when a group of agencies, primarily those serving youth in Watauga County, began to explore “how to do a better job,” said Presnell.
Taking direction from the Center for Disease Control‘s “Essentials for Childhood” document, Presnell explained, the group decided the first step would be to raise community awareness and provide education about trauma and resiliency.
Next, a State of the Child Forum — focused on childhood trauma and trauma-informed communities — was held in May of 2017.
Approximately 350 people attended, representing key sectors from Watauga County and surrounding areas. Afterward, a steering committee was formed to continue the work; today, that same core group known as Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative, continues to meet monthly to further its mission of promoting health and resiliency in our community and to effectively prevent, recognize and treat trauma by creating safe, stable, nurturing environments and relationships.
Implementing these positive steps is proving effective, which was further confirmed in May 2018 when the WCCI hosted yet another successful event at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone. Attended by some 330 people, mainly an audience of educators and community servants, its goal was the prevention of trauma and building resiliency.
“What’s Strong in You?”
The upcoming event, Presnell said, will take the dual topic a few steps further as the target audience will include the aforementioned service providers and educators, but also community members, individuals and parents, who can all benefit from learning more about an often misunderstood subject that’s too easily swept under the rug. Until it can no longer be obscured.
The audience will be inspired by local speakers who have forged through trauma and will share their journey to resiliency.
“We decided to tap in to our local resources this year and will have some dynamic speakers with whom the local community can identify,” Presnell said.
The response was overwhelming last year, Presnell said, to a local woman’s presentation, during which she shared her very poignant and personal story of pain, loss and recovery — and everything in between.
It helped the planning team realize that, as a community, we need to help children and adults build resiliency skills and create a more successful life for themselves, Presnell said.
“We’re finally learning that it’s OK (to give ourselves permission) to talk about not only where we came from, but that we’ve made it — and what we’ve done along the way to overcome our pain,” she explained.
At the same time, however, Presnell pointed out that many individuals who experienced trauma early in life have never been able to overcome it and are prone to suffer through adulthood with various issues, including addiction, abuse (as a perpetrator), mental illness, unemployment, homelessness and more.
“You have children with trauma who become adults with unresolved trauma who then can’t or aren’t able to make better decisions to create better lives for their children,” she explained. “And then, the cycle continues as the children live in trauma and stress.”
It is Presnell’s hope, and one shared by the WCCI team, to involve more parents this year. “We want to encourage everyone to start planning ahead for this event,” she said.
It will take “an army of people,” Presnell said, “some 40-50 volunteers, including our speakers and session leaders” to accomplish the goals of the WCCI, but she knows it can be done. “We’re all volunteers,” she said, “nobody gets paid. We’re all in this together, working for the same outcome. We want our community to learn how to create safer relationships and a safer environment. It is our responsibility to not only bring awareness, but to provide tools for people to do things differently than they’ve ever done before.”
Class sessions will include the following:
- Trauma prevention
- Trauma treatment
- Promoting health
- Promoting resilience
- Creating safe, nurturing spaces
- Creating safe, nurturing relationships
Target audiences will include community members, service providers and educators.
Registration, which began February 1, is required, with spaces expected to fill up soon.
Childcare will not be available for the event.
Watauga County Foster and Adoption Program is the primary sponsor for the 2019 conference, with other healthcare and community agencies providing additional sponsorship to be announced later.
The registration link is https://tinyurl.com/WCCI2019Registration.