After six years of working to fight childhood traumas in Shelby County, the ACE Awareness Foundation and its Universal Parenting Places closed their doors today.
Fortunately, one ACE Awareness community partner is eager to make sure the work the foundation began will continue.
When the folks at Kindred Place heard that ACE Awareness was closing, they kept a close watch on the organization and jumped at the opportunity to become the new site operator for the programming the shuttered UPPs were facilitating.
They won the bid and got to work.
Jennifer Balink, executive director of Kindred Place, said she and the staff are "ecstatic” to take the reins.
“We believe that peace in families and homes translates to peace in the community,” Balink said.
The UPPs provided classes, counseling, and activities to address the traumas and mental health issues that often grow from adverse childhood experiences or ACEs.
ACEs stem from a lack of safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. The classic definition includes things like homelessness, household violence, or having a parent who is absent due to death, divorce, or incarceration. Newer schools of thought include racism and generational poverty.
Related: "Memphis author, expert says definition of adverse childhood experiences falls short in urban areas"
"When we learned that the UPPs were closing, we were concerned about those resources not being available to parents because there would no longer be a physical location. With place-based work, it matters to have a physical location to ensure the work is tangible and practical," said Balink.
Since launching in 2015, more than 5,000 counseling sessions were conducted with families at the Memphis UPPs.
ACE Awareness created the UPP programming then partnered with existing organizations around the city to make it happen.
The UPPs were located in Knowledge Quest in South Memphis
, Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women in East Memphis, Perea Preschool in the Klondike area
of North Memphis
, and Christ Community Health Services' Raleigh location.
Related: "In a traumatizing year, this South Memphis trauma support program is in jeopardy"
Though they were closing, the foundation's leaders wanted to make sure families continued to receive the help they needed to address ACEs.
“We’re pleased that the nationally recognized UPP model created in Shelby County will continue to support families, especially because these services are needed now more than ever,” said Dr. Adriane Johnson-Williams, Board Chair of ACE Awareness in a press release.
Related: "Women Working It: Dr. Adriane Johnson-Williams helps leaders understand what Memphis needs"
"This is a gift we take with great humility and care," said Balink.
Kindred Place is a counseling and education center for adults, children, and families. Their work ranges from trauma-focused therapy to weekly co-parenting seminars, all dedicated to improving family functioning.
"Our work at Kindred Place has always centered around parenting, so the connection between us and the Universal Parenting Places seemed natural," said Balink.
During a typical year, Balink said they serve about 2,400 to 2,500 individual clients. Due to COVID, the numbers have been smaller.
“Before the pandemic we had multiple programs that met in our building, but for the past year there have been no in-person group programs. A few of our group offerings, including parenting and co-parenting classes, have allowed us to successfully serve some families virtually,” she said.
Kindred Place is now assuming ownership of the UPP intellectual property and models.
Kindred Place staff and board are currently in the research phase to determine next steps, including the possibility of future collaborations with the four former UPP sites. They're also looking at funding and financial stability, as well as ways to stay connected to and serving those families who were working with the closed UPPs.
The ad hoc research committee consists of Kindred Place and ACE Awareness board members.
“We are currently researching to determine the best path forward for all. After we’ve had conversations with all stakeholders, mainly parents, we can confidently firm up our next steps with those sites,” Balink said. “One of our main priorities is the continuity of care for families. How that will happen will be determined in greater detail in the weeks to come.”
"We are excited about bringing the Universal Parenting Place to Kindred Place, expanding and building upon all of the good work that has been done."
Click here for our Q & A with Jennifer Balink and more on Kindred Place in the community, their plans with the UPPs moving forward, and how they are working to ensure current UPP families can still get help.
[This article is funded in part by ACE Awareness Foundation as part of a year-long series on adverse childhood experiences in Memphis, including the people and organizations offering innovative solutions to protect and heal the city's youth.]