The Four Seasons once sang, “Oh, what a night!” (Google it if the song is before your time.) They could have easily been harmonizing about New Beginnings Family Academy’s recent Night of Inspiration. To say the event was a success is putting it mildly and not just because there was a great turnout.
The evening was so special and meaningful because it brought together a diverse broad section of the community – parents, non-parents, educators, corporate heads, non-profit leaders, board members, young professionals, older adults – to talk about one of the most important issues facing our children: toxic stress.
Night of Inspiration featured a viewing of the film “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope.” Sans a few emotional sniffles, you could hear a pin drop during the hour-long film that delves into common causes of childhood stress, also known as ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), and the impact they have on our lives well into adulthood — unless and until we address them. The movie is compelling in and of itself. But the highlight of the evening was the Town Hall style discussion that followed on how best to shield children from ACEs at home and school and, as importantly, what to do when we realize we and our children have been exposed to them.
The top 10 ACEs are: 1) emotional, 2) physical and 3) sexual abuse; 4) physical neglect; 5) divorced or separated parents; 6) emotional neglect; 7) witnessed domestic violence; 8) substance abuse in the household; 9) mental illness in the household; and 10) family member in prison. According to the research, if we have been exposed to three or more ACEs before the age of 18, we are twice as likely to have heart disease. Four or more ACEs and we are three times more likely to become depressed. Six out of 10 ACEs and our life expectancy is 20 years less!
By now, some of you must be wondering where the “inspiration” in the event title comes in. Well, although there is clearly nothing thrilling about the devastating power of toxic stress, the good news is that RESILIENCE can beat ACEs! If parents and other care givers (educators, medical professionals) provide a safe environment for children in which they learn to be resilient, such loving nurturing creates a safety net for kids and their emotions and helps reduce or completely eradicate the negative effects of ACES. Resilience trumps ACEs!
The panelists and I are living, breathing examples of that. All with ACEs scores of three or higher, each of us learned to be resilient and are now serving our respective communities in meaningful ways. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Marcel Slowly runs Covenant Family Services, a private counseling agency in the Devon section of Milford; Kyoshi Herbie Bagwell is a ninth-degree black belt who owns and operates Bagwell Academy of Martial Arts, also in Milford; Mirjam Maharaj sits at the helm of a growing business called Maharaj Real Estate in Branford; and I am honored to serve as an educational leader for nearly 500 students and families at New Beginnings Family Academy here in Bridgeport! Each of us now works, in one way or another, to help youngsters (and the young at heart) overcome the toxic stressors that threaten to choke their potential.
The panel was amazing and shared really powerful insights, which can be seen and heard on Facebook by clicking here. But one thing Miriam said really stood out. When asked how she – an abused adoptive child who was suicidal and fled her birth country of Mexico to escape her life – found resilience, she shared that her Christian faith became her safe place. She then looked directly at the audience and said, “God gave us those babies and WE are supposed to be their safe place!” The crowd erupted in applause.
The “we” she was talking about is all of us. We parents, teachers and caregivers are to help children by learning more about ACEs; helping children name and manage their emotions; creating physically and emotionally safe environments for them at home, in their neighborhoods and at school. For some resources, visit our post HERE or call us at New Beginnings Family Academy at 203-384-2897. We will try to connect you with the right individual or agency to help with your need.
Making meaningful connections is one of the things NBFA does best. We pride ourselves on developing relationships with children and treating them and their families well. Our emotionally responsive approach weaves mental health strategies throughout the building to make sure that every child feels safe and able to learn. We don’t suspend students; we repair relationships through restorative circles. We build community. We work with families to meet children where they are. Ten or eleven years later, we graduate healthy, whole 8th graders ready to enter high school with enough resilience to make it to and through college and into the workforce. New Beginnings Family Academy’s commitment to students and families goes beyond simply teaching them to read, write and compute. We’re working with families to develop compassionate, critical thinkers who can withstand some hardships and come out on top long-term. It’s hard work. It’s extra. But it’s worth it. NBFA kids are worth it.
It was nice to be able to open the doors of NBFA to about 120 people for such a rich conversation. I look forward to many more opportunities to do so. We have other events planned, which you might consider. They include monthly art and music events for students and their parents/guardians to come out and paint and drum for FREE and an Open House on Sunday, April 7. Please check out our main webpage at www.nbfacademy.org to stay abreast of upcoming events and our news feed to see all of the great stories that are coming out of NBFA.
For our kids,
Ronelle P. Swagerty, CEO