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Resilience: Community Screenings Set the Stage for Community Action in Wake County, NC


Wake County, North Carolina, is home to more than one million people in Raleigh and 11 other municipalities. Advocates for Health in Action (AHA) is a network of partners in Wake County working together to improve health and well-being through policy, systems and environmental change, and they are coordinating the ACEs Resilience Initiative in Wake County. Carey Sipp, Southeast Regional Community Facilitator for the ACEs Connection, spoke with AHA Executive Director Sara Merz last week to learn how this work is moving forward in Wake.

 Sipp: How has your community come together around ACEs and building resilience?

Merz: The documentary Resilience has been an amazing organizing tool for Wake County. After AHA and partners Wake County Government, YMCA of the Triangle and Marbles Kids Museum presented the first film screening in Wake County in April 2017, leaders and advocates have come together through the ACEs Resilience in Wake County Initiative.

 We’re talking about law enforcement, the criminal justice system, health care, social service providers, nonprofits, parks and recreation staff, schools, early childhood education and other stakeholders coming together in a way that they haven’t before in Wake County to improve health for our community members.

 We’ve created a leadership structure (an Advisory Board, a Steering Committee and four new Work Groups) and a results-oriented framework to work together, rather than in silos, with everyone aiming towards the same targets and goals to have a greater impact for our community. The Work Groups are organized by broad stakeholder groups, including policymakers, helpers and providers, educators and community members. For the systems change we are creating together, we are laser focused on the results framework from across sectors. So we’ve created draft indicators of success and targets, and the work groups are refining those now.

 “Understanding our community members’ adverse childhood experiences creates the best opportunity for strengthening our community.  To improve outcomes, we all have to join in on building resiliency.”

 Lorrin Freeman, Wake County District Attorney and Honorary Co-Chair of the ACEs Resilience Initiative of Wake County

 Many organizations in Wake County that provide direct services have been engaged for years in this work, using the ACEs information, maybe the ACEs survey, and definitely trauma-informed care, so ACEs and building resilience aren’t new. But for many leaders in our community, it’s all new, and they felt so strongly after seeing the film that they wanted and needed to “do something.” So together we are capitalizing on that momentum and energy to support the work that’s already happening, increase the capacity of other service providers, and really broaden impact county-wide.  

This movement will support our entire community.  We’re aiming for systems change, a culture change really, that will improve people’s lives here in Wake.

Sipp: How did this initiative take shape in Wake County?

 Merz: I saw Resilience in July 2016 at a conference, along with Wake County Human Services Director Regina Petteway and a couple of our county commissioners. I was so struck by the data and the incredible impact ACEs were having on health. And I was struck by the combination of what that data says and the tug on heartstrings. I knew we couldn’t improve health in Wake County without addressing ACEs. And we can’t address opioids without talking about ACEs.

 I shared the film with the Wake County Manager, Jim Hartmann (since retired). His reaction was that we had to get the film into our community.  Across all sectors, he believed seeing the film would help people see the importance of supporting the work, and join the efforts to make Wake County a better place.

 Together we showed the film to the CEOs and management teams of the local hospitals, the Wake County Director’s Group, and others including the YMCA of the Triangle, which is AHA’s fiscal agent and one of its partners.  These partners were taking early ownership.

Marbles Kids Museum partnered to host a large private screening for community leaders at its IMAX Theater, and with that screening and discussion among nearly 300, the wheels were in motion for a community-driven movement to prevent ACEs and build resilience.

 AHA subsequently purchased additional copies of the film and loaned it to organizations that screened it for their staff, their boards, their volunteers and others, and Marbles began hosting free monthly screenings in September 2017. Momentum and interest has been building ever since.

Sipp: What are some milestones?

We reached out to the Raleigh Chief of Police to ask if she might want her officers to see it. She mandated it for Raleigh’s 800 officers and key sworn staff, so we did eight private viewings for them. The City of Raleigh’s city manager had his management team see the film and they used it to frame part of their one-day management retreat. The Town of Cary, the second largest community in Wake County, has hosted film screenings for its staff, including parks and rec staff, police, firefighters and others, and is using the ACEs Resilience Initiative’s structure, framework and target goals for internal staff goals around ACEs and resilience and ultimately to support the community members the town serves.

There are more examples, and I’m just in awe of the actions are partners are taking. While this work was budding in the summer of 2016, community organizing takes time, and this spring, the work is really starting to take off. 

AHA has provided the information and the space for people to become informed and activated to create change in their different areas of expertise. It is early to tell what the outcomes will be of having schools and programs that are trauma-informed, but we know community members are working together, cross sector, and that they have a basis of knowledge and support network to move forward.

It’s exciting, and we’re honored to convene partners—some who are long-time AHA partners and others who are new to the AHA table—to improve health and happiness in our community. I’m honored to share this story with ACEs Connection and look forward to sharing more as our model and our work grows.

AHA in Action - At-a-Glance

  • 4,200+ in Wake County have viewed Resilience
  • 140 organizations + individuals joined ACEs Resilience Initiative in Wake
  • People from more than 300 organizations have seen the film in Wake County
  • 6 local strategies to build resilience for those with ACEs or trauma were showcased in “Building Resilience: What’s Working in Wake County” (Dec. 2017)
  • AHA Director participates in April 2018 Twitter Town Hall on ACEs with community perspective
  • KPJR Films VP of Community Engagement & Communications Lynn Waymer visits Wake County to see AHA’s model among community partners in April, 2018

For more information about this story, please contact Carey Sipp at


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