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Meet Porter Jennings, PACEs Connection’s new Midwest and Tennessee community facilitator


Dr. Porter Jennings is PACEs Connection’s new Midwest and Tennessee community facilitator. She replaces Ingrid Cockhren, who is now director of PACEs Connection’ Cooperative of Communities and leads the efforts of the organization’s six community facilitators.

Jennings spent her junior year in college living with a Spanish family and studying at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, where she acquired fluency in Castilian Spanish. That’s not the dialect spoken by the Central and South American immigrants she worked with during her practice experience as a licensed clinical social worker, but she quickly learned to communicate in a hybrid of various dialects and picked up key slang words and phrases as well.

That’s why Jennings, who earned a master’s and later a doctorate in social work at the University of Georgia, says, “My dream would be to further work on establishing migration-related trauma as an ACE."

Always interested in human behavior, Jennings majored in psychology as an undergraduate at Sewanee: The University of the South. While working closely with social workers as an intern at a women’s substance abuse treatment facility, she decided to pursue social work and move onto graduate school.

The new PACEs community facilitator didn’t find out about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and other related sciences until a year after she had earned her master’s degree. She was in her first full-time job as a social work clinician with Pathways Transitions Programs, a mental health agency in Georgia, which received referrals from the courts and other institutions.

“I was so relieved and happy to know that there was a specific term being used by clinicians, scientists, and social workers, for a phenomenon that I had been aware of my whole life,” she says.

Jennings’s doctoral dissertation, entitled “The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Adult Mental Health Court Involvement: A Qualitative Exploration,” is based on the narratives of the people she interviewed about how they felt ACEs influenced the path that led them to Georgia’s mental health courts.

“The reason I was able to do this was based on my relationships with the gate keepers,” says Jennings, “including a therapist with the mental health court circuit in Georgia who had developed a rapport with these individuals. They had trust in these gate keepers and were graciously willing to share their stories with me.”

Mental health courts are part of a movement to make the criminal justice system more restorative, and Jennings says they are spinning off into a sub-movement to create a trauma-informed criminal justice system.

Jennings’ dissertation, which she plans to publish, is the 2018-2019 recipient of the University of Georgia’s Graduate School Dissertation Completion Award.

You can contact Jennings at

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