• Josh Anderson

Compassionate Communities Care

The Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative promotes health and resiliency in the High Country by identifying ways to effectively prevent, recognize, and treat trauma. theHeart is excited to actively partner with other members of our community who are creating safe, stable, and nurturing relationships that help those whose lives are affected by trauma.

theHeart is part of a community initiative that wants to build resiliency in people so they can heal from whatever trauma they’ve been through and create better lives for themselves and their children.

In 2015, a group of agencies in Watauga County began to explore how to comprehensively serve youth in Watauga County. Taking direction from the Center for Disease Control‘s “Essentials for Childhood” one-pager, they decided the first step would be to raise community awareness and provide education about trauma and resiliency.

That's what led the group to create and host a “State of the Child” forum in May 2017. It was the first step in a growing initiative that continues to help develop awareness and support for those whose lives have been negatively impacted by divorce, physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, neglect, and other traumatic events.

Since then, theHeart has sought to be actively involved with the Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative in a variety of ways recognizing it’s importance to the High Country and the mutually beneficial relationships that it provides.

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." — Colossians 3:12

"Through participating in WCCI, we are able to build strong relational networks with counselors, medical professionals, social service agencies, school officials, and many others," Pastor of Relational Care, Graham Aitken said.

Currently, Graham is attending monthly meetings and helping to lead the Awareness Committee. Stephanie Thomas who attends theHeart provides leadership to the Prevention Committee. And several people from theHeart have participated in the annual forum that has taken place each year since 2017.

But why exactly was this initiative created?

Preventing Trauma. Building Resiliency.

The Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative was created “in an effort to ensure the momentum would continue,” said Denise Presnell, who spearheaded the organization and continues as its chair today.

With a mission statement “to promote health and resiliency in our community and to effectively prevent, recognize and treat trauma by creating safe, stable nurturing environments and relationships," WCCI focuses on education about childhood trauma and building trauma-informed communities.

It's an ambitious goal, and yet in just four years the purpose of WCCI has become more and more refined.

At the center of this initiative is an annual forum that is held as an anchor event for WCCI. Each year the event draws hundreds of participants that include a multitude of educators, help agencies, local churches, and impassioned activists in the community.

Attendance is one indicator that the desire for a compassionate community is not just catching on, but is starting to establish deep roots. The most recent forum was held in this past May with 585 people in attendance. Community Life Pastor Josh Anderson was encouraged by what he experienced at the forum.

The 2019 WCCI annual forum gathered 585 people from all across the High Country and several professionals from around the state who want to learn more about what it means to be a trauma-informed community.

"The speakers were inspiring. The classes were informative. But perhaps even more energizing was to be surrounded by an impressive number of professionals from the High Country," Josh said. "Not only are they talented experts in their respective fields, but they are driven to build a strong and vibrant community."

In addition to hearing from two keynote speakers, participants were able to attend class sessions about trauma prevention, trauma treatment, promoting health, promoting resilience, creating safe, nurturing spaces, and creating safe, nurturing relationships.

People Helping People

In planning for this year's forum, organizers realized that, as a community, we need to help both children and adults build resiliency skills so they can be better equipped to create a more successful life for themselves.

“We’re finally learning that it’s 'OK' to give ourselves permission to talk about not only where we came from, but that we’ve made it—and what we’ve done along the way to overcome our pain.” — Denise Presnell

At the same time, however, Denise pointed out that many individuals who experience trauma early in life and have never been able to overcome it are prone to suffer through adulthood with various issues, including addiction, abuse, mental illness, unemployment, and homelessness.

“You have children with trauma who become adults with unresolved trauma who then can’t or aren’t able to make better decisions to create better lives for their children,” she explained. “And then, the cycle continues as the children live in trauma and stress.”

Denise said with this year's forum, they wanted to create a space where participants could explore how we as a community can help people—not just children but adults as well—build those resiliency skills so they can offset whatever trauma they’ve been through.