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Clergy embrace trauma informed training in Greater Philadelphia region


An exceptional all-day “Trauma-Informed Training for Clergy” event was held in Philadelphia in May 2017, organized by JSR Educational Enrichment Strategies, Inc. Founder and President Doris Smith-Ribner, Retired PA State Appeals Court Judge. Judge Smith-Ribner recognized the need for this training particularly for those on the front lines of dealing with the impacts of trauma and its prevalence within Philadelphia—the Clergy. Here is her report from that meeting.

Highly-regarded trauma experts provided invaluable information on the science of trauma and its impacts on children, families, and others and discussed ways to address trauma and to help resolve a public health crisis facing the city. [1]. Findings from the landmark Philadelphia ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study (aka Philadelphia Urban ACE Study) show the degree to which trauma exists in Philadelphia and highlight the need for everyone to become aware of its consequences.

The event was supported by Clergy Groups, including Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity President Pastor Jay Broadnax, and attended by members of the faith-community from Philadelphia, Delaware and other counties.

The speakers included Dr. Roy Wade, Jr., the nationally-known child trauma expert, Pediatrician at CHOP and a Principle Investigator of the Philadelphia ACE Study who gave an analysis of the study’s findings and presented, among other topics, riveting perspectives on health and life outcomes from childhood>adolescence to young adulthood>adulthood associated with ACEs.  

What makes the Philadelphia Study unique is that it added 5 community-related stressors on top of the original 10 questions that participants were asked in the 1998 CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study. Adding the 5 stressors (witnessing violence, racism, unsafe neighborhoods, bullying and foster care) helped researchers to better understand the impacts of community-level adversities on people living in an urban neighborhood and to more accurately gauge their ACE scores. Tragically, researchers found that 40% of Philadelphia adults witnessed violence while growing up and that more than 37% of the survey participants reported experiencing 4 or more ACEs.

The breadth and extent of trauma in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods plagued by gun violence was amplified by the presentation from Temple University Hospital’s Trauma Outreach Coordinator Scott Charles, MAPP, who directs the award-winning “Cradle2Grave” anti-violence program to educate at-risk youth about the dangers of gun violence. Discussion of the raw data on shootings in the city and the toll that trauma takes on the social, mental, physical and economic well-being of a community plagued by gun violence should be a wake-up call to every caring adult. Since 2006, 11,000 school students have gone through the program, but more resources are needed to reach the thousands of students in the city who would benefit from exposure to this program.

[1] Trauma has been defined as “an experience that is perceived as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening, overwhelms our ability to cope, and causes intense reactions such as fear, helplessness, and loss of control.” Safe Supportive Learning, “Building Trauma-Informed Communities for Youth,” The White House My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.


From a community perspective, the Vice President and COO of the Urban League of San Diego County Al Abdallah has coordinated a design and implementation of an historic initiative funded by the county to unite Black and Latino Clergy and mental health providers in San Diego regions where Black and Latino populations have been disproportionately served and had limited access to appropriate mental health and other services. This collaboration offers an opportunity that did not exist before for those populations to become aware of mental health services and to receive direct access to those services where the community worships. A Faith Based Academy was started where faith leaders and behavioral health providers are educated about existing mental health resources and where the community receives assistance in accessing services, while also building relationship and trust among faith leaders, providers and the community.

 A well-known trauma expert from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kimberly Konkel, Director for Health at the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, leads an effort called Community of Practice for Trauma Informed/Responsive Congregations (TiCong) to create a “trauma-informed America” where communities promote healing and help prevent trauma. Currently, she’s working to build a national response to epidemics of suicide, violence, untreated mental illness and addiction. In her presentation, she focused largely on how to build resilient communities through trauma-informed congregations that: realize the impact of trauma and understand paths for recovery; recognize signs and symptoms of trauma in families and in others; and respond by integrating trauma awareness into everyday practice and interactions.

 Dr. Dandridge Collins is a highly-respected Baptist Minister, Psychologist and trauma expert and the author of a bestselling book entitled “The Trauma Zone: Trusting God for Emotional Healing.” He conducts a pastoral psychology practice in Philadelphia and Media and has lectured on the impacts of trauma in many forums, including national T.V. and radio. His presentation focused on the meaning of trauma and its impacts on clergy and congregations, and he defined a trauma zone and its 5 stations and how to find one’s way out of each. His prescriptions for healing and recovery from trauma resonate within the faith community and beyond, and his presentation on healing and thriving offered a moving conclusion to an exceptional event.

Building trauma-informed communities is vital to the health and well-being of the city and nation, and it will pay dividends in ways yet unseen, especially for our children and families. Local, state and national support for on-going trauma training is needed to help further the goal of creating a society where congregations and entire communities are equipped to address trauma while at the same time identify ways to help prevent trauma from even occurring.     

Judge Doris Smith-Ribner (Ret.)
JSR Educational Enrichment Strategies, Inc.

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