By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> “Do you know anyone who has been divorced? I bet most of us could say yes. That is a person or a family that has been impacted by trauma.”
Mary Rieck, coordinator for a Pottstown kindergarten readiness program called PEAK, opened a community meeting about childhood trauma explaining how common trauma is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trauma as a difficult experience that leads to mental and emotional problems. Rieck leads a committee called the Pottstown Trauma Informed Community Connection, which aims to bring awareness about the impacts of difficult childhood experiences and what can be done about it.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows that adverse childhood experiences, commonly known as ACEs, can lead to lifelong challenges in mental, social and physical health. These experiences include divorce, physical neglect, domestic violence and more. Rieck said these types of experiences aren’t an “us versus them issue” or about anyone’s socioeconomic status. All kinds of people have experienced trauma as a child, she said.
“So it’s really about all of us working here together in Pottstown to figure out how we can we support our children and our families,” Rieck said.
About 130 people of different area organizations came to the community meeting last week which was held at the Montgomery County Community College Pottstown campus. Attendees of the meeting viewed a video of a local resident who shared her experience of childhood trauma. In the video, Marissa Kullman explains that at 14 she became addicted to pain medication after being hit in the face with a paint ball. The addiction eventually led to her use of heroin.
“I always said that I worked full time, I had a car, I had insurance on it, I had a cellphone, I had a place to live so I never really considered myself a drug addict because I was a functioning drug addict; little did I know,” Kullman reveals in the video.
It’s was Kullman’s own drug dealer that convinced her to get help by telling her she had a problem. So in her early 20s, Kullman checked into Creative Health Services, then the hospital and then a rehabilitation center. She said her connection with others helps keep her sober. Kullman’s story is the first of many to come about how individuals in Pottstown are breaking the cycle of ACEs, adverse childhood experiences. These stories will be published on the Pottstown Trauma Informed Community Connection website www.pottstownmatters.org.
“ACEs matter and they are adverse childhood experiences” is the narrative that the community needs to be informed about, said Kirsten Murray, director of development for the Lakeside Educational Network. Murray, a Pottstown trauma informed committee member, explained that the stress of childhood experiences can interfere with brain development as well as how a child deals with emotion.
“This is why some kids misbehave at school and fight at home … they’re trying to send up an SOS that’s something’s wrong,” she said. Suzanne O’Conner, of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, said children that are being difficult and angry all the time, most likely are experiencing some type of trauma. O’Conner, who is also a member of the trauma committee, said now it’s time for the community to figure out what their part can be such as how to appropriately respond to adverse childhood experiences.
“What we’re trying to do with this movement, with this initiative is to really change that mental model to not what’s wrong with you but to what happened to you,” she said.
Dr. Andrew Trentacoste, Creative Health Services CEO, said many people will probably react similar to how he did when they first learn about adverse childhood experiences. Trentacoste said he was shocked to learn he had several of the experiences described. He said raising awareness is the starting point so people can begin talking about how life experiences effect how you interact with others. This will lead to people responding differently to those individuals they recognize as having traumatic events, he said.
“That’s how healing works. That’s how overcoming works,” Trentacoste said. “Overcoming adverse childhood experiences, moving on from your experiences and developing into a healthier member of our society is not the work of professionals. It’s the work of communities.”
Community members at Wednesday’s meeting had group discussions about their personal experiences and ideas of how to overcome childhood trauma in Pottstown. John Foster talked about his personal story of growing up and working during the Civil Rights Movement. Foster is the vice president of Operation Inspiration, an organization that works to improve Pottstown with education in crucial areas. He used a quote from the Bible to explain how the community can help kids overcome trauma.
“Train a child in the way he should go,” Foster said.
The committee has organized several Trauma 101 Training sessions for the community to attend and become better informed. There will be a training session Oct. 6 and Nov. 15 at Pottstown Middle School. For more information or to RSVP, use the email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 610-970-6614. For more information about the Pottstown trauma-informed initiative and adverse childhood experiences, visit the website www.pottstownmatters.org