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Bridges of Hope builds upon community-based initiatives. 'Walk for Hope' in June includes sober walk in northeast Brainerd

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Bridges of Hope Self-Healing Communities Project Co-coordinator Amy Wyant (left), Bridges of Hope Executive Director Kassie Heisserer and Bridges of Hope Self-Healing Communities Project Co-coordinator Tom Gonzalez talk about upcoming plans Bridges of Hope is working on. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch Video2 / 2

Community organizations took a new tack in August dealing with issues such as suicide, juvenile offenses and dropout rates by partnering with Bridges of Hope for a "self-healing community."

Since the faith-based nonprofit embarked on the Self-Healing Communities Project, it has launched many initiatives related to adverse childhood experiences or childhood trauma.

"We want the community to know, for example, that we've formed an adoptive, foster and respite parents learning and support community that did not exist prior to this," said Amy Wyant, Bridges of Hope Self-Healing Communities Project co-coordinator.

The self-healing communities model aims to build a community's capacity to improve outcomes for health and social issues by reducing and preventing adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to officials, the idea is to "engage the public, inspire innovation, support peer helping and ease the daily stress burden of parents to promote change so that together communities can better protect and nurture the next generation."

Adverse childhood experiences

The learning and support community was formed in December with the involvement of foster care licensing agencies such as Crow Wing County, Kindred Family Focus, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Pinehaven Youth and Family Services Inc.

"We invited all of those partners to the table to say, 'Hey, tell us about your organization. What's your training like, do you see value in providing a space and a place for parents to come together to support one another on this very unique and specific journey?'" Wyant said.

Bridges of Hope Executive Director Kassie Heisserer said, "All of them are always looking for more providers, and so we want to make sure that we're keeping the ones that we have healthy and supported."

As part of that particular support group, Pinehaven gave a presentation last month at Timberwood Church about de-escalation, a topic requested by parents. The next learning and support community event is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 22 at the Gull Dam Recreational Area.

"This is more of a picnic-style event, and the kids will be playing with the (Brainerd Family) YMCA while the parents are doing their educational time, and we want the community to know that if you are an adoptive parent, a licensed foster care or respite provider, you are welcomed to join," Wyant said.

Abuse, neglect, divorce, or a mentally ill, incarcerated or addicted parent are all examples of "adverse childhood experiences" or ACEs, so an ongoing ACEs and resiliency series of free workshops are offered at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brainerd among other places.

Upcoming presentations about ACEs will be May 13 and June 3. And a future workshop about resilience will be June 24, which includes a complimentary dinner before the program.

"Everybody needs resiliency, it's not just people who grow up with trauma," said Tom Gonzalez, Bridges of Hope Self-Healing Communities Project co-coordinator. "Resilience is overcoming stressful situations, and being able to manage and work through that."

ACEs create dangerous levels of stress that can derail healthy brain development, and increases the risk for smoking, alcoholism, depression, heart disease and other unhealthy behaviors throughout life, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"We know for instance if you don't get enough sleep your brain doesn't function as well. Just one night of a lack of sleep and your brain's ability to encode its memories drops by 40% except for negative memories, which barely drops at all," Gonzalez said.

Last month was National Child Abuse Prevention Month. County officials say they are dedicated to supporting families to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect. Crow Wing County Community Services administers more than 70 federal and state benefit and assistance services and programs totaling more than $130 million dollars annually.

"The first step is awareness: I have to know that there's a problem," Gonzalez said of changing behavioral problems. "And then the next steps are teaching skills and influencing, but we know by far the best way to do that is through caring, competent relationships."

Self-Healing Communities Project

The Self-Healing Communities Project is starting in the neighborhoods around Garfield and Lowell elementary schools with the intention of having people working together for safer, healthier neighborhoods.

"We really are about a two-generation approach ... working with the parents and helping them learn new parenting skills but then also working with their kids and helping them to learn resiliency skills, so that we disrupt that cycle of trauma, so it doesn't get passed on," he said.

Bridges of Hope just formed a new partnership with Crow Wing County Public Health staff and will train county jail staff May 21 and May 23 about "trauma-informed care" as part of the ACEs and resiliency series.

"The goal there is health for the workers, themselves, because the best thing you can do is be the best you that you can and then you're bringing that to any situation you're in but also to provide skills for them to then go provide to their families," Gonzalez said. "Some of our workers are social workers, some of them are home visitors, so they're reaching different populations, but now they're able to take these tools that we're teaching them to use in their situations, too."

Bridges of Hope has also accepted an invitation to teach ninth-12th graders this summer in a five-week series that begins June 10 at Central Lakes College as part of the TRIO Upward Bound Program.

"Upward Bound is specifically for students who are either low-income or they would be the first generation in their family to go to college—or both," Heisserer explained. "This is a program that's been going on for many years, so we're excited to be able to partner with them."

Garfield Elementary School Principal Jodi Kennedy and Wyrant applied for and received a $2,500 grant from the Brainerd Rotary Foundation.

"We're in the development phase right now of designing a customized parent academy and kids resiliency program that will be housed at Garfield, but Garfield and Lowell parents and families will be invited to this," Wyrant said of the expected launch of the program in late summer.

Sober Squad, a support group, the Brainerd Family YMCA and Bridges of Hope recently partnered for a "Walk for Hope," a June 8 community event that includes walking through northeast Brainerd, free T-shirts and a picnic lunch, stories of hope, giveaways and fellowship.

"Here's what's amazing about this. This came together around a table with people talking over a cup of coffee, downtown Brainerd, and 'What do you know? Who do you know?' and within an hour we had this pulled together," Wyrant said.

Heisserer added, "And that is exactly what the self-healing communities model is—people coming together, sharing assets, finding out where there are gaps and using each other to fill those in and create something new and more powerful and more positive and healthier for the community."

Themes of the upcoming and public event based at Lum Park include: Recovery is possible; sobriety is fun; create new memories in the neighborhood; support each other; we can make a difference together; let's build community one step at a time; and you are not alone.

"We are looking at this point—asking the community—sponsorship money for food, and specific donated door prizes of gas cards, grocery cards, certificates to tattoo parlors and certificates to buy a new pair of shoes as you walk for hope," Wyant said.

Bridges of Hope

Organizers of the self-healing communities models anticipate the implementation to take 24-36 months and hope to see outcomes in three to five years.

"One of the terms I heard recently at a training was some people were thinking this is 'trauma excused,' that 'Oh, well. You're traumatized, so now you just get a free pass and nobody is going to expect anything out of you.' No way are we suggesting that," Gonzalez said.

"When we start with compassion first, now that person feels validated, and we can have a conversation and maybe get to 'Let's really talk about the issues and what's going on.'"

For more information about the Bridges of Hope Self-Healing Communities Project, call 218-825-7682 or visit

Frank Lee

Voted most likely in high school ... "not to be voted most likely for anything," my irreverent humor (and blatant disregard for the Oxford comma) is only surpassed by a flair for producing online videos to accompany unbiased articles about Crow Wing County about, say, how your taxes are being spent, by your elected officials, on issues or topics that matter to YOU.

Writing local feature stories about interesting people in the community, however, and watching and discussing movies are among my passions. ... Follow me on Twitter at either of these accounts: @DispatchFL (for news) or @BDfilmforum (for movies).

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