Q & A: Jennifer Balink talks trauma, healing, and a new journey for Memphis-based Kindred Place

Jennifer Balink is the executive director of Kindred Place, a Memphis-based counseling and education center for adults, children, and families.

Their work ranges from trauma-focused therapy to weekly co-parenting seminars, all of which are dedicated to improving how families care for each other through both good times and struggles.  

Kindred Place recently won a bid to take over as site operator of ACE Awareness Foundation's Universal Parenting Places programming.

The foundation previously worked with four other local organizations to create physical spaces that provided classes, counseling, and activities that addressed the traumas and mental health issues that often grow from adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. 

The foundation closed its doors today, which formally ended its UPP programming and passes the torch to Kindred Place. 

Kindred Place is currently exploring how best to relaunch the UPP programming. Balink said their research phase includes, "...a lot of reading, talking, and listening in the days and weeks ahead..."

ACEs stem from a lack of safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. The classic definitions include 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.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic will be a topic for research and debate among ACEs experts. 

Related: "Memphis author, expert says definition of adverse childhood experiences falls short in urban areas"

Balink took a moment to answer talk with High Ground about the role of Kindred Place in the community, their plans with the UPPs moving forward, and how they're doing their best to make sure that current UPP families can still get help.

Who does your organization serve?
We serve families, adults, and children who are looking for additional support and help improving their family relationships. Sometimes that’s a parent and a child, sometimes it’s couples, sometimes it’s an adult working through past family experiences that are replaying in a current family dynamic.

Our audience is very broad because everyone has a family, whether that means an intimate partnership, a relationship with one’s own parents, or children of one’s own.

How does your work address ACEs?
All of our work is rooted in trauma-focused behavioral health. Thinking about trauma and how to recognize and deal with making a healing path ahead has been the focus of our work for a long time.

Trauma and adverse childhood experiences are different but related.

Some of our clients have experienced trauma in adulthood, such as being the victim of a crime. Others come to us because childhood traumas have surfaced as an issue in adulthood and addressing their past can be key to unlocking what’s happening in their adult life. Sometimes parents will re-experience their childhood traumas when their children reach an age that was traumatic for them. Knowing which particular situation is affecting parents can often help them prevent a repeat cycle and strengthen the protective factors for their children.

Why did you decide to pick up this work?
The ACE Awareness Foundation has done so much work over the years to raise community awareness about childhood experiences and to lift up parents and families. We’ve always been excited about that work and its power to transform Memphis and Shelby County.

Our work at Kindred Place has always centered around parenting, so the connection between us and the Universal Parenting Places seemed natural.

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. Making sure the word “place” was in our name was an important part of our rebranding a few years ago. 

What are your next steps?
Listening and learning are the most important pieces right now. This is a gift we take with great humility and care. Also, we have formed an ad hoc committee, which will include a few former ACE board members. With these leaders at the table, our future decisions will have a fresh perspective that’s rooted in historical context.

How is the strategic planning coming?
It’s a flurry of activity. We’re combing through UPP manuals, documents, and studies, as well as conducting discovery meetings with longstanding leaders in this work. And we are beginning our external research with parents and other community stakeholders. There will be a lot of reading, talking, and listening in the days and weeks ahead as we build upon the work of the ACE Awareness Foundation and ensure its financial stability.

How can people who need services contact you?
Families in need of support can fill out an electronic form at kindred-place.org or call 901-276-2200.

Click here for more on ACE Awareness Foundation's closure and the UPP move to Kindred Place. 
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[This article is funded in part by ACE Awareness Foundation as part of a series on adverse childhood experiences in Memphis, including the people and organizations offering innovative solutions to protect and heal the city's youth.]

Read more articles by Erica Horton & Cole Bradley.

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