If one were to spell out the benefits of joining PACEs Connection’s Cooperative of Communities (COOP), there is no better person to ask than Barbara Finch, co-lead for Resilient Santa Barbara County, which was one of the first four affiliates to join COOP.
“The biggest benefit,” she says, “is recognizing that you are part of an expansive and growing movement. There are so many different approaches to the work, and every community has its own experience. What we have learned since joining the COOP is there are many different ways to be successful.”
First launched in January 2020 and relaunched in January 2021 after the pandemic forced a pause, the PACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities provides special tools and services for PACEs initiatives in towns, cities, counties and states. It’s designed for initiatives that need efficient and sophisticated ways to measure their progress toward becoming a trauma-informed community; that want diversity, equity and inclusion coaching; whose members need training in how to be a network leader, and more. In other words, it’s for established initiatives that are ready to move to the next level.
Affiliates pay $5,000 a year to participate, an amount that is low enough so that the cost can be shared among organizations and individuals. Organizations can take turns paying, initiatives can even crowd-source the funding, and it may not even require a line-item in a budget. They receive access to tools and services that cost them a fraction of what it would take to develop them on their own.
Although relatively small compared to larger affiliates of the program, Resilient Santa Barbara County fit the profile of a COOP affiliate. But the story starts earlier, in the background of Barbara Finch who co-leads the organization with Terri Allison, an early care and education consultant.
For the past nine years, Finch has served as Children and Adult Network director for the Santa Barbara County Department of SocialServices, coordinating the KIDS Network and the Adult and Aging Network. In her day job as well as in her co-leadership role with Resilient Santa Barbara County, she’s been able to apply her collaboration skills by leveraging her degree in cultural anthropology from Colorado College. That experience included a semester in Nepal, where she was embedded in the life of a local family just outside of Kathmandu.
Although she intended to work for the Peace Corps after college, Finch ended up in California, working in social services. Her work with different vulnerable populations led to a position with Strategies, where she had the opportunity to provide child abuse prevention training throughout California. This confirmed her understanding that each group – whether from a different country, a different community, or a different system – has its own culture.
“There’s a health care culture, an education culture, a juvenile justice culture,” she points out, “and to be effective you have to bridge those cultures. It’s a process of letting people tell you who they are and what matters to them. By inviting and respecting different stories, you show each group that they are valued.”
Listening is key
That ability to listen is the core of Finch’s role as a facilitator and co-leader of Resilient Santa Barbara County. This initiative includes 25 partners across the county in both public and private sectors, all of them trained and conversant in PACEs science.
Finch said that PACEs science really connected with her when she saw the “Resilience” documentary by the late James Redford.
“The first time I saw the movie, I cried,” she says. “It has become part of my story. My own ACE score is zero, but both of my children have a score of 5. I really appreciated the positive message of the film – that consistent, caring adults can make a difference. This was true for my children and allowed me to use my own story as a beacon of hope and healing for others.”
What also helped her start Resilient Santa Barbara County was meeting PACEs Connection founder Jane Stevens, and inviting her to deliver the keynote at the 2017 Bridges to Resilience Conference. Jane helped Finch connect with PACEs advocates from across the state, and the stories they shared at the conference created cross-sector momentum for local efforts.
In 2018, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the first California Surgeon General and the force behind the California ACEs Aware Initiative, came to Santa Barbara for a speaking engagement at the University of California campus there. She met with 40 community leaders to address their desire to launch a PACEs movement in the county.
“That’s when the community endorsed the idea of a Resilient Santa Barbara County network, with partners who are committed to being ACEs-informed and trauma-responsive.”
During the pandemic lockdown in 2020, the county resilience program kept its focus on creating personal connections and sharing stories. “When we went virtual, we just made time in every agenda for small group connections and inviting people to talk about what was happening in their communities.
“Sharing those stories created a sense of trust and belonging that has really served us well,” she said. “ACEs science is a huge benefit to that process because it allows people to have a shared language and common mission.”
Inspiration and a broader perspective
A major benefit of joining the COOP has been the opportunity to work with diverse communities in the program, creating a broader perspective for the Santa Barbara affiliate. Given the social unrest and increasing economic inequities in this country, it’s important to understand the connection of these conditions to PACEs.
To address these issues, COOP Director Ingrid Cockhren has developed a four-part training series on equity and racism.
Finch’s network has participated in the first two sessions, which have been very well received. She added that people in the program are asking questions – and getting answers—about how race and equity relate to PACEs.
Participation in the trainings has allowed the Santa Barbara leadership to think more deeply about how to center equity and anti-racism in the work of Resilient Santa Barbara County. Members were asked to reflect on how their organizations are bridging cultures and building relationships to support equity and inclusion. The conversation about cultural brokers, parent partners, and community health advocates surfaced actionable ideas about what is working and what is needed to create communities of belonging that support healing and wholeness.
As for other benefits of joining the COOP, Finch says, “You get inspiration and ideas. To hear from a community that is several steps ahead of you, you can see what’s possible, and we can then do our own version of it.”
One example she cites that struck a chord was the trauma and resiliency movement in Fresno. Members from Fresno talked about weaving networks together, a strategy that is also part of Santa Barbara’s success. Fresno leveraged networks to build momentum for data tracking using the COOP’s Community Milestones Tracker. Their success at getting 71 organizations to complete the Milestones Survey inspired Santa Barbara to renew efforts to engage partners in a similar way.
As for how the COOP affiliates work together, Finch describes it as a highly collaborative process. “With support from PACEs Connection, we are informing one another and honoring all the work that has been done for over a decade. It’s a very dynamic process, a process of co-creation.”