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Edgecombe County PACEs Connection (NC)

My positive childhood experiences tree


This is the third of three stunning illustrations showing how PACEs (positive and adverse childhood experiences) affected the family of Cendie Stanford, graphic artist and founder of the nonprofit ACEs Matter. This one looks at her positive childhood experiences.

The day before her 16th birthday, Cendie Stanford’s older brother was shot and killed by a young man who, just two years earlier, had been her boyfriend.

“I was heartbroken that two people I loved were out of my life forever,” says Stanford. “The guy I used to call my boyfriend and the man who was born my brother.”

Cendie Bio PicThe shock of this trauma could have led to a downward spiral for Stanford, founder and executive director of the nonprofit ACEs Matter. Instead, she says, a community leader—a family friend—reached out to her.

“An athletic trainer and coach—whom everyone called Prof, and who had coached my brother—took me under his wing,” she says. “When Prof drove three of my friends and me to visit a college during my senior year of high school, it was a turning point. I knew I had to get out of my neighborhood; I had to keep going.”

Upon reflecting on her positive childhood experiences (PCEs), Stanford added a third infographic to the first two: My ACEs Tree: Genealogy; My ACEs Family Tree: Life After ACEs.

Positive Childhood Experiences Tree #3

“When I took the resilience quiz and the positive childhood experiences questionnaire, I immediately felt a sense of appreciation, not just for the people in my community who stepped up when I was hurting, but also for the unique abilities of our bodies to recover and thrive in the face of just about anything. Although my ACE score sits at a 10, my PCE score was a five out of seven,” she says. “Now I understand that I had several adults outside my home that were invested in me. My mom loved us dearly, but she had her own ACEs that kept her from parenting well.”

Ask yourself: How did I get here?

“The negative memories serve as a daily reminder of where I never want to be again, and the people I want to help. Looking at the positive experiences is equally as important. For me, it caused a perspective shift. I remembered that many of the PCEs that I experienced didn’t cost my family anything. As I look back on the events that got me here, many of them were community-led and student-centered opportunities that only required awareness,” Stanford adds.

She says she would like every person who has excelled, in spite of high ACEs scores, to stop and look back and ask themselves: “How did I get here?”

“Probably most of us had some help from the community. I needed to remember that I was involved in sports. I was popular amongst my peers, and as teenagers we liked the challenge of getting good grades. So, a huge part of my motivation to leave my neighborhood was caused by my high school experiences of being recognized by the mentally stable adults who saw potential in my gifts,” says Stanford.

I needed to remember being vice president of the student council and the lead photographer for the yearbook—and that Jerry Gray, a former NFL player, walked me out onto the field during the homecoming game because I was a member of the homecoming court who didn't have their father there,” she adds. IMG_2042

Stanford said she hopes looking at both their positive and adverse experiences will help people see that they can change, life can bring good experiences, and both of those facts need to be remembered.

Flip the script and remember the positive

“If we are walking around believing that we can't change, then it's pretty easy to roll with that thought, and stay negative. But if we flip the script and start telling ourselves stories of empowerment and encouragement from the people who were there for us, we find an alternate solution,” she says. “I believe that, along with a trauma-informed lens, it would serve society if each of us also had a ‘love-informed lens’ so that when possible, we can show people the positives in their life. For almost all of us, there was probably someone who cared.”

Stanford created ACEs Matter to take awareness about PACEs science into underserved areas plagued by crime, danger, and poverty. She believes the first two of her infographics, which are being used in several settings, can help people see why it is so important to know about their own ACEs and their family’s ACEs, and to try to prevent them in the next generation.

ACEs Matter is going to find the people that need to hear about PACEs science. We’re going to go to the businesses that need to better understand their employees and customers and share this with them. My hope is that these infographics, when people fill them out themselves, will help them connect the dots and see the relationship between their ACEs and their health challenges, and their family’s ACEs and their health outcomes,” says Stanford.

“When we put the adverse childhood experiences together with the positive experiences, I hope it will encourage businesses and people in communities to want to provide positive experiences to children, to families. As a child who grew up in an emotionally and financially unstable environment, there is nothing more important, in my opinion, than to help every single child find something positive in their day—every day. Communities can help make that happen,” she says.

“At ACEs Matter, PCEs will be critical in the work we do,” she continued. “We may not be able to pull people out of poverty overnight, but we can sure help them see the beauty in creating and building on the positive.”

My Tree-ACEs Tree #1

Tree-Life After ACEs #2

Stanford says people who’d like to receive a “color-yourself” blank copy of the ACEs Tree infographic from ACEs Matter are encouraged to visit
For those with means, a $1 donation is requested to receive a copy.


Images (5)
  • My Tree-ACEs Tree #1
  • Tree-Life After ACEs #2
  • Positive Childhood Experiences Tree #3
  • Cendie Bio Pic
  • IMG_2042
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