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ACEs Connection launches Cooperative of Communities


Like most of you, when I learned about the science of adverse childhood experiences, I was blown away! A huge missing answer in my professional life clicked into place, and the disconnected puzzle pieces that comprised my personal life merged into a clear picture. It was a double AHA! moment.

Another AHA! that hit me not too long after I launched ACEs Connection was that the transition to healing-centered cultures based on ACEs science was not a three- or four-year endeavor. Depending on the community, it’s at least a 20-year transition, and more likely, a 30- to 40-year transition.

This is one of the reasons we’re launching the ACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities today. We want to continue to contribute to the ACEs movement to grow and support people, families, organizations, systems and communities for as long as it takes to create a worldwide healing-centered culture based on ACEs science. We want that to take hold in this world in the same way electricity has — we only notice it if it isn’t there.

First, a clarification: Nothing on changes! Membership is and remains free! Everything — the guidelines for starting and growing ACEs initiatives, the presentations tracker, interaction with community facilitators…everything — that our current 300+ communities use is free. And it will remain free for initiatives that want to start communities on

So, what’s the Cooperative of Communities, then? It’s an addition to It’s for ACEs initiatives that have progressed to the point where they’re ready for more tools and services. Specifically, the ACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities is a program of ACEs Connection that provides special tools and services for ACEs initiatives in neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, regions, states and countries. It’s affiliate-driven, which means that ACEs initiatives steer the course of the cooperative. 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 cost for them to develop those tools and services themselves. 

An affiliate’s benefits include:

  • data-gathering tools and guidelines, including a Community Resilience Tracker (here’s a prototype of a tracker)
  • access to virtual think-tanks
  • eligibility for participation in cooperative committees and advisory committees
  • jobs bank
  • (coming later in 2020) fiscal pass-through for qualifying funds/activities

Who is eligible to become an affiliate in the cooperative? ACEs initiatives with:

  • demonstrated six-month history as an ACEs initiative (you don’t need to have had a community on ACEsConnection)
  • cross-sector representation of at least four sectors (e.g., education, law enforcement, healthcare, faith-based)
  • a committee responsible for interaction with ACEs Connection, to handle the affiliate agreement, payment, fiscal pass-through, etc.
  • an MOU or other similar agreement with participating organizations and individual members of their ACEs initiative
  • at least one community manager, paid or volunteer

Affiliates of the cooperative will guide the development of the cooperative; that’s another reason we’re starting it. Most foundations and agencies have a limited funding horizon, including the good people who support ACEs Connection. That horizon is usually two or three years, occasionally five or 10, but very rarely longer. (We’ve been very fortunate to have two of our funders support us for six years.) The question from funders that most nonprofits have to answer is: At the end of this grant, how will you sustain your work?

But, as I noted earlier, the transition for ACEs science to become integrated in most communities, and for communities to integrate practices based on ACEs science into most of their organizations and systems will take decades. Most of the world doesn’t know ACEs science from aardvarks; most people and organizations haven’t caught up to what ACEs science is or means. That’s just the nature of this change. It’s BIG — transformational on the scale of the Internet, electricity, the iPhone, social media and the concept of love. We’re moving from a world that by and large uses blame, shame and punishment to change human behavior — which has resulted in our burden of seemingly intractable health, economic and social problems — to one that uses understanding, nurturing and healing, which has been shown to solve our most intractable problems. 

Some examples: By integrating healing-centered, trauma-informed practices based on ACEs science, an elementary school in San Diego stops suspending and expelling students. A health clinic in Pueblo, Colorado, sees a 30 percent drop in visits to the emergency room. A juvenile diversion program in Philadelphia reduces arrests from 1600 to 500 in three years. In San Diego, during the first year of a juvenile detention facility built to be trauma-informed from the ground up, there are no violent incidents whatsoever. Pediatricians say they have a better relationship with parents and their kids. They can address developmental problems and identify family violence earlier to prevent lasting damage. After one year, family courts that integrate the Safe Babies Courts approach see 99 percent of the kids suffer no further abuse. A family physician in Tennessee who treats people addicted to opioids sees that 99 percent of his patients are able to hold down a job, which is the best indicator of healing. Within 24 to 48 hours after a person recovers from an opioid overdose in Plymouth County, MA, a police officer visits and offers to take them to a rehab facility right then and there. And then says, “How about I treat you to dinner on the way?” Opioid deaths in the county drop 26 percent, while in the surrounding counties, death rates increase 84%. A batterer intervention program in Bakersfield, CA, sees recidivism rates fall from 60 percent to six percent. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation sees staff turnover decline from 21 percent to just 10 percent. In Cowlitz County, WA, youth suicide and suicide attempts drop 98 percent.

Big change — change that affects everything — takes time. But we have a plan to accelerate this change. By growing the cooperative, we hope and plan for ACEs Connection itself to become self-sustaining in about three years. That, in turn, will enable us to start funding new ACEs initiatives with the small amounts of money they need to get started. Those small amounts of funding are usually hard to come by while an initiative is getting organized; the cooperative will be in a prime position to identify and support nascent ACEs initiatives and give them the boost they need for a healthy launch, faster than most funders can. We also want to create a process and perhaps a fund that will support — and encourage local and regional funders to support — pivotal points in the growth of ACEs initiatives as their work becomes ever more integrated into all organizations in their communities. Both of these approaches will continue to accelerate the ACEs movement. We need to accelerate it. We’re facing some extremely challenging times as climate crises increase. It would make a lot of sense to have people better-equipped to handle these crises and to reduce our current problems so that we have adequate resources to address the new ones.

Because the cooperative will be affiliate-driven, ACEs Connection will be more closely guided by people who are working day-to-day in the movement, who have the experience to respond quickly to changes that occur in the movement, and the foresight to understand how circumstances outside the movement may affect it.

Even if ACEs Connection is fortunate enough to become self-sustaining, we still want to work with national and regional funders on a long-term basis on research and development. R&D projects include developing ever more complex data tools to measure progress; formulas to calculate economic savings in other sectors when one sector sees progress after integrating practices based on ACEs science, to encourage support of continued investment in change; and research to identify tipping points in sectors and communities, to accelerate the process of change.

We and others calculate that under 1,000 ACEs initiatives have been launched in cities and counties across the U.S. There are 34,000 cities and counties across the U.S.; each one will need to integrate practices based on ACEs science if they want to solve their most intractable problems.

We’ll be posting more information about the Cooperative of Communities soon. A couple of communities will debut their Community Resilience Trackers in a few weeks, so that you who are interested can see a tracker in action. If you have questions now, either leave them in the comments section, below, or if you’d like to talk with an ACEs Connection Community Facilitator, use this link to identify the person who can help you and contact them.

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