Alive & Well Communities

Building Community Resilience:
Alive & Well Communities

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"Since joining the Building Community Resilience national learning collaborative and network, our work to activate our communities to heal has continued to grow with more partners coming to the table to engage in deeper relationships to disrupt the proliferation of adversity experienced in our communities."

-Jennifer Brinkmann,
President, Alive and Well Communities

The Alive & Well Communities

In Spring of 2018, Alive and Well Communities (AWC) joined the national Building Community Resilience learning collaborative and network to lead their initiative across a multi-state region spanning Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois. AWC – comprised of Alive and Well Kansas City and Alive and Well St. Louis - helps communities design, implement and sustain their vision for becoming trauma informed and resilient – creating a network of diverse partners largely based in Kansas City and St. Louis. AWC’s priorities are governed by steering committees in St. Louis and Kansas City, whose members represent a variety of sectors, including health and behavioral health, education, grassroots organizations, and health departments. Each Steering Committee oversees and represents the wisdom of their respective Community Council, which is comprised of nearly 500 volunteer “Ambassadors” from the local community. Any resident of Kansas City or the St. Louis regions are encouraged to partner with AWC and become an Ambassador. AWC Ambassadors are agents of change working to increase community resilience and decrease the impact of trauma and toxic stress. Ambassadors represent themselves, their neighborhoods, and/or their professional organizations in health care, education, behavioral health, business, social service, and more. Despite distinct lived experiences and backgrounds, Ambassadors share a common goal: to help promote healing, wellbeing, equity, and resilience. Ambassadors commit to participate in trauma-awareness training – along the path to becoming fully trauma-informed – and to connect and collaborate at quarterly events and engage their community and/or organizations to build a resilient, trauma-informed city and state.

The Community Context

Communities in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois recognize that many of the adversities they face – from epidemic levels of addiction and community violence to poor educational and health outcomes – have a common root cause: trauma and toxic stress. Communities and individuals experience adversities, from traumas experienced in the home, such as exposure to substance abuse or domestic violence, to the traumas associated with living in areas of concentrated poverty, discrimination, and the lasting impacts of racism. Segregated and unsafe neighborhoods in the urban core of St. Louis and Kansas City have long-standing inequities in access to economic mobility, and historically include some of the poorest health outcomes in the country, from tobacco use to chronic disease. Both cities have a long history of racial tensions and stark racial disparities. These disparities are demonstrated in racial inequities across housing, health, education, and employment. According to the US 2010 American Communities Project, St. Louis and Kansas City are the 7th and 25th most segregated regions in the country, respectively. In Kansas City, these disparities continue to grow due to rapid gentrification in the city’s urban core. St. Louis’ barren urban core - severely lacking in infrastructure and vitality - has isolated people of color living in this area from resources and networks for decades. Additionally, both Kansas City and St. Louis experience high rates of violence, with both Kansas City and St. Louis ranked in the top ten regions with the highest murder rates in the U.S. (FBI Uniform Crime Report). Following the shooting of Michael Brown, a young African-American man, by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO, the St. Louis region has experienced more urgency in addressing racial tension and inequity, local violence and community unrest.

Across both the St. Louis and Kansas City regions, there is a shared need for healing. Community members, in partnership with Alive and Well Communities, have been working to create pathways to healing. There is a momentum and energy created by dedicated residents and service providers who are working together to implement sustainable change at the neighborhood, organizational and systems levels. This work has resulted in investments by the St. Louis Mental Health Board, the MO Foundation for Health, the REACH Foundation and Health Forward Foundation in Kansas City, and America’s Promise Alliance.

Alive & Well Communities: A Collaborative Focus

Through the lens of the Pair of ACEs, Alive and Well Communities is applying the science of trauma and toxic stress to improve family, individual, community, organizational, and systems responses to the region’s layers of trauma, with the goal of promoting healing, wellbeing, and equity. AWC is facilitating important shifts in local family-serving systems, changing the question from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What’s happened to you?” – a key shift in creating trauma informed communities.

All of AWC’s priorities and work are driven by community voice. Current priorities include…

  • Creating significant awareness and common language about the impact of trauma and toxic stress on individual and community outcomes, and building understanding about resilience and how it leads to healing.
  • Recruiting hundreds of Ambassadors across the region to lead change in their organizations, neighborhoods, places of worship, etc.
  • Capacity building through training for mental health providers, educators and organizations to enable them to offer evidence-based, trauma-specific interventions to the communities they serve, as well as trainings to address their secondary trauma, including education and self-care techniques.
  • Consulting with organizations to adopt the Missouri Model, a developmental framework for addressing the impact of trauma and creating trauma-informed organizations.
  • Establishing and supporting learning collaboratives for professionals in multiple sectors including education, health, and justice.

Community Highlights

Alive and Well St. Louis
To date, AWC St. Louis has provided nearly 600 trauma trainings in a range of settings including schools, health care, and social service -- reaching more than 20,000 individuals - including all staff in St. Louis Public Schools. The St. Louis team has also been working to support several organizations implementing Seeking Safety, an evidence-based, trauma specific intervention that addresses trauma histories and substance use among community members. Additionally, AWC St. Louis hired a team of 15 Community Consultants to share information about toxic stress, the Pair of ACEs, self-care, and community care to residents of the “Promise Zone”, a federally designated area of concentrated poverty in the East St. Louis, IL and Hazelwood, MO region. All community consultants are residents of the communities they are serving. This work is entering its third year, where Consultants will work to establish place-based Ambassadors that will work collaboratively to address traumatic issues impacting their communities.

Alive and Well Kansas City
AWC Kansas City has recruited a diverse coalition of stakeholders to the AWC Kansas City Community Council and Steering Committee. The Steering Committee developed their plan for 2019, focusing on building common language and understanding among Ambassadors and activating Ambassadors to address the Pair of ACEs. In doing so, the group launched a very successful impact series addressing the intersection of trauma and racism experienced by black women in the healthcare system, trauma and sex trafficking, and trauma and immigration. They have launched the second round of the impact series for 2019, implemented Coffee Conversations hosted by Ambassadors, and is working with local organizations to host a Common Language Conference.

The Role of BCR

 As a member of the national BCR collaborative, AWC learns from, teaches and co-creates best practice with the other four BCR teams in the collective working to address the Pair of ACEs through the BCR process. Through in-person and virtual meetings with the other BCR teams around the country, AWC shares successes as well as challenges that help shape each BCR site’s initiatives. This pioneering work requires exploration, experimentation, and frequent course changes. BCR provides resources and a framework to support information sharing, data collection, outcome measurement, and solution identification. AWC has tapped into BCR’s expertise to begin to build relationships with federal and state policymakers, including providing specific education on certain legislative and administrative actions.

Next Steps

AWC continues to deepen its work in communities and in systems, particularly the education, health care and criminal justice sectors. Its models for change, including recruiting and activating Ambassadors to be at the center of designing and leading the change, continue to grow with opportunities for replication.


Jennifer Brinkmann
Alive and Well Communities
[email protected]

Wendy Ellis, DrPH, MPH
Program Director
The Center for Community Resilience
George Washington University
[email protected]