PHILADELPHIA—Two Kensington-based community development organizations, Impact Services and New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), are launching Connected Community: A Trauma Informed Community Engagement Toolkit to improve the quality and effectiveness of community-based work in neighborhoods that experience high levels of trauma.
The Connected Community curriculum will equip participants with an understanding of trauma and offer tools to mitigate its effects. Being trauma informed means acknowledging the physical, mental, and environmental toll that comes from traumatic experiences—which can include living in a neighborhood suffering from disinvestment, neglect, poverty, racism, or the opioid epidemic—but not letting those experiences be the defining characteristics for the community or its residents. A trauma-informed approach promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than practices and services that may inadvertently cause more harm.
The toolkit was developed to eliminate barriers to community engagement by helping to foster connections among neighbors, bolster community resilience, and promote emotional intelligence.
“We are building on existing practices from Dr. Sandra Bloom and her colleagues, who understand that applying principles and practices related to the effects of trauma and stress cannot be relegated solely to clinical practice,” said Impact CEO Casey O’Donnell (PsyD). “They shaped how to integrate this knowledge into organizational systems. Everyone should have access to these practices.”
Since 2015, when Impact Services first approached NKCDC about trauma-informed care, they have been building a collaborative of neighborhood organizations to apply trauma-informed principles to community development work in Kensington. While there was both breadth and depth of knowledge related to the effects of trauma on communities, the collaborative saw an opportunity to expand that knowledge and associated practices to neighborhood blocks in Kensington, and to other community organizations in Philadelphia and across the nation.
With the support of the Scattergood Foundation, LISC, and NeighborWorks America, Impact and NKCDC launched a three-year participatory process with residents to craft what has become the Connected Community curriculum and toolkit. Michael O’Bryan of the Village of Arts and Humanities led months of participatory workshops with residents and created a document that reflected both the community and the evidence-based research behind trauma-informed care. Rebecca Fabiano of Fab Youth Philly took that material and turned it into a train-the-trainer curriculum that is engaging and accessible enough for anyone to use.
“We wanted to share the work because we saw how important it was to the community members who went through the curriculum,” said Zoë Van Orsdol, Public Health Projects Manager at Impact. “They told us how much the work meant to them and the effect that it had on their lives, which galvanized our belief that it should be accessible to anyone who was interested.”
The curriculum is designed to both teach participants about trauma and to build the skills necessary for them to lead workshops of their own. With this train-the-trainer model, the collaborative hopes to ensure that trauma-informed practices will be sustainable for communities.
NKCDC and Impact Services share a vision for Kensington to be a safe, healthy, and prosperous community where neighbors feel connected to one another, take shared responsibility for the neighborhood, feel empowered to make change in their environment, and envision a positive future for themselves and their children.
“Success will be long lasting if a paradigm shift occurs that centers community members as the leaders in weaving trauma-informed care into as many efforts as possible within the community,” said Dr. Bill McKinney, Executive Director of NKCDC. “Community-led TIC work should be the new norm.”
Connected Community: A Trauma Informed Community Engagement Toolkit is free and accessible at traumainformedcommunity.org.
Impact Services is a community action organization mobilizing people and resources to create connected, resilient, thriving communities. Impact offers community and economic development supports such as street cleaning and business lending, workforce development and training services, and housing for veterans and families.
New Kensington Community Development Corporation advances social equity and economic empowerment by nurturing and creating opportunities for residents to live in, and actively shape, their neighborhoods of choice. Visit nkcdc.org to learn more about how we integrate trauma informed principles into our work.