Everyone has experienced some kind of trauma, experts say, and people need to know how to work through it to help others also facing traumatic events.

That was the message presented to 35 representatives from various local organizations who attended a Community Resilience Initiative training on Friday in the Walla Walla Airport conference room sponsored by United Way of Walla Walla and organized by Walla Walla’s Community Council

Speakers discussed trauma-informed care throughout the community and how to implement it to become more resilient.

The trauma-informed care initiative already has taken hold in schools such as Lincoln Alternative High School, where it began. The school incorporates an understanding of toxic stress on the brain to better help its students.

“If the brain is exposed to stress, it changes a person’s ability to develop and can lead to things like hyperarousal,” said Teri Barila, Children’s Resilience Initiative co-founder and CEO.

Hyperarousal is a condition related to post-traumatic stress disorder, when a person has elevated anxiety and alertness, difficulty sleeping and other symptoms.

Barila and Jim Sporleder, retired Lincoln principal, helped form the Children’s Resilience Initiative after he led Lincoln to being a trauma-informed school, which gained nationwide attention due to its increased graduation rates, decreased dropout rates, and those getting postsecondary education, according to Initiative leaders.

Wytress Richardson, behavioral studies associate professor at National Louis University-Chicago, said she and some of her colleagues have come to Walla Walla several times to learn about resilience training and have implemented it at the university.

“It’s the hub of all of this,” Richardson said. “It’s breaking ground on resilience.”

She said her hope is to spread it throughout Illinois, as she’s seen how students there have benefitted from faculty and others knowledge and implementation of it.

“The students are largely minorities,” Richardson said. “(Trauma) impacts how they function in the classroom.”

Like Richardson mentioned, leaders are adapting the Children’s Resilience Initiative into the Community Resilience Initiative.

CRI Master Trainer Rick Griffin said it enables all ages and professions to spot toxic stress in themselves and others and deal with it properly. That way, people’s behaviors can be better understood to help them get to a reasoning mode in their brain instead of survival mode, he said.

He said studies have shown those who’ve endured trauma as children often operate from their brain stem, causing a “fight or flight” reaction to everyday occurrences. Some also prepare to be injured, he added, such as those with PTSD.

Others use their limbic system, he said, which houses emotional reactions.

If people aren’t using their prefrontal cortex, they aren’t thinking properly, he said, and communication is ineffective. The best time to help change how someone thinks is during childhood, Griffin said, pointing to various studies. However, people can learn adaptive skills as adults, he said. To help respond to a traumatized person effectively, Griffin said R.O.L.E.S. could be used: Recognize what happened, Observe what is happening currently, Label it, Elect positive intent, and Solve.

But to help solve an issue, the community has a role.

“I hope people understand that the community does make a difference,” he said. “And everyone has the responsibility to make a difference and gain knowledge of the cultural and other issues affecting behaviors … The reality is people respond differently to trauma. Everyone has a different experience.”

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

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