At the end of July we packed up our suitcases and headed to Philadelphia to attend our first Trauma Training conference . We came to the conference bright eyed and bushy tailed ready and eager to learn as much as we could so we could take our knowledge back to our community in New Jersey. From the moment we stepped onto Thomas Jefferson University I felt like I was back in college. Not the part of college that had me dreading finals and unforgiving professors. No the first day of college where anything is possible and you’re on cloud nine to finally be around peers that share your passions . After getting my badge for the the three day training we were split into groups for the morning: Medical professionals , Social workers, Educators and Community Members . We were in the community members group which was lead by the organization Hope Heals based in Camden, New Jersey. Hope Heals gives technology jobs to young adults that have often been through trauma . They explained how they learned early on the importance of a trauma informed workplace. They told us a story about a young adult named Bob who came in late to work everyday, did not follow the dress code , stole food from other workers and to top it off he didn’t work up to standards. They of course had to let him go . They also told us another story about Bill who came from a broken home where his mother had to work long hours just to make ends meet. He was left taking care of his four younger siblings and had to get them off to school on time . He worked hard and had to give up most of his wages to help support his family because of this he didn’t have money to buy clothes or food for himself. By now I’m sure you have guessed Bill and Bob are the same person . However, you only got to understand and help Bob succeed after you have a trauma informed work place, where instead of just thinking his actions are a reflection of the working environment and him not caring about his job they took it a step further and instead of asking Whats Wrong With You they asked What Happened to You .
One of my favorite things that this group did was the amazing job of explaining the basics of what Adverse Childhood Experiences are and the long term affects they have on us and our community. I really enjoyed how they utilized all the different types of learning strategies to get their point across. As a visual learner myself I really enjoyed when they showed us a Madea clip from ‘Madea Goes To Jail’ . The clip showed what happened when Madea’s parking spot was taken by a rude young women in a sports car. As you can imagine hilarious antics ensued. The clip itself was hilarious and although it was obviously exaggerated and written for laughs it made me think. For example, what could possibly make Madea think it was ok to crush someones car just for taking her parking spot? We were able to unpack our own biases and look inside what they called her ‘invisible backpack’. An invisible backpack is something everyone carries around with them. It’s full of our life experiences and traumas and determines how we react to situations. Looking at each of what could possibly be in the characters backpacks made us examine our own and realize whenever we go into a situation how we react may have nothing to do with the the situation at hand. Knowing our own traumas and biases and realizing everyone has them can help us deal more effectively with conflict and everyday situations.
Hope Heals also made us do several active participation activities that kept us alert and part of the lesson they were teaching us. One of my favorite activities was the balloon activity. There were two teams with balloons and as an audience we were told nothing. When they were told to begin the activity it just looked like chaos. Some people were on the floor with the balloons and others were tossing the balloons in the air. It looked so chaotic, I’m sure they didn’t even know what was going on. I was so glad I didn’t volunteer. When it was done it was explained to us that one group was told to keep the ballon up and the others was told to keep the ballon down. This represented how people from different cultural or economic backgrounds enter a environment for an example, a school, with different goals . People from a more stable environment go to school to learn, get good grades and go to college . However, kids who are in a crisis environment their goal might just be to survive the day. This causes confusion and chaos in a working environment where no one understands what the other person is doing . The balloon activity clearly demonstrated the chaos going into any work environment thinking everyone is after the same goal and not getting to know the people or kids you are working with.
Another activity that made me think was the cup activity. This activity is where two people were called up to the front and told to stack solo red cups. Whoever built it the highest won, simple right? Sadly, as you could have guessed it wasn’t that simple the group kept knocking down their cups at random . After several times of this one guy just gave up and the other figured out a different way to stack the cups. The point of the activity was to show different coping styles. After a few times of being knocked down some people might just give up completely, some might try a different way to get to the end and some might just continue to build . It was interesting to think of your own coping style and how you handle different setbacks in life. What Hope Heals shared with us is that they also found during the game when the audience cheered people on the people were more likely to keep going. When people have others cheering them on giving them support they are more likely to not give up on their goals.
The last activity but possibly the one that I think about most is the ruler challenge. Three volunteers are told to lower the ruler without dropping it using only your finger tips. They can’t seem to do it, they seem to be doing it all wrong. When were asked as an audience what they could do differently we gave helpful tips like they should communicate more or they need to work better as a team. However, we are quickly informed that as helpful as those tips may seem the task at hand is in fact impossible for them to achieve . The take away from this is that although it may seem to us as observers that we are being helpful saying ‘oh just communicate more’ or just ‘ try harder’ the task to that person may in fact be impossible for them to do no matter how hard they try. I learned so much during only the first half of the trauma conference. It left me thinking what I carry in my own invisible backpack, what biases do I have toward other people and how I will now stop and think before I just assume someone is acting a certain way that something is wrong with them that it might be because something happened to them.