Processing and recovering from community trauma

Article was written by Amy Greil, Community Development Extension Educator. 
Originally published in The Kenosha News.

Community trauma. Whether through natural disasters, public health crises or tragic social events spurring community-level violence, these are deeply felt by residents but often not recognized.

Like so many of you, since Sunday, Aug. 23, I have been processing the Kenosha community’s trauma, and my academic interest has uncovered some useful guidance as we navigate this recovery phase together.

I have found that the most effective research-based strategies build on indigenous “tribal” knowledge that resides within our own community members, tapping into latent expertise of diverse leadership that has perhaps been silent/silenced for too long, while building upon existing assets.

The Prevention Institute report titled “Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience: A Framework for Addressing and Preventing Community Trauma” offers us guidance.

Strategy #1: Physical/Built Environment Investments. Prioritizing quality physical environments that create space for positive interaction will reap innumerable rewards.

Thanks in part to visionary elected leadership, such as County Executive Jim Kreuser and Kenosha County Parks, locals have open access to some of finest parks and open spaces among communities on the Great Lakes.

Let us support efforts to reclaim and invest in the expansion of natural environments that are appealing to residents, reflective of community culture, and sources of pride and healing.

Strategy #2: Social-Cultural Environment Supports. Programming intended to counter the symptoms of community trauma support healing through the positive connection between people. This is needed now more than ever as people learn to process their experiences and make sense of all that has occurred.
Kenosha County is home to a multitude of community programs that reinforce notions of violence prevention and lifelong learning/health promotion. How can these organizations, that touch thousands of lives annually, be better supported through our voluntary contributions of time, talent and treasure?
If you are not sure where to start, connect with the United Way of Kenosha County to learn more.
Strategy #3: to Improved Economic Opportunities. Youth and adults in highly traumatized neighborhoods need to be at the heart of economic development initiatives, but how?

I am so encouraged to see the shifts and “pivots” that our economic development institutions are making to strengthen services and expand business opportunities and retail amenities in at-risk neighborhoods during this recovery phase.

Still, these organizations need help forging more and better connections across segments of the grassroots community to ensure development plans and financial resources match community needs—and reach those most affected. The One Town grant program managed by Downtown Kenosha, Inc. is a possible inroad.

The Prevention Institute document goes on to lay out a broader framework and specific recommendations for addressing and preventing community trauma, too, that are worth considering:
  • • Trauma-informed community building strategies such as restorative justice programs that shift the norms around conflict resolution.
  • • Healing circles that both promote dialogue and reconciliation while strengthening intergenerational relationships and updating community narratives.

I’m encouraged by the steps I have seen taken locally and hopeful we can draw upon what has been shown to work in other traumatized communities. Learn more at www.preventioninstitute.org.

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