Friday, August 19, 2022

Ambassador of Resiliency: New Hanover earns global praise for employee training and wellness

New Hanover is being recognized internationally this year as an Ambassador of Resiliency for its employee training program. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County has been active in teaching mental health wellness strategies for its employees for the last four years. Its Community Resiliency Model, adopted based on the Trauma Resource Institute’s resilience training, is now gaining international recognition for its success.

Founded in 2006, the Trauma Resource Institute is globally known for its science on psychological impacts of traumatic and stressful experiences. TRI recognizes New Hanover County as a 2021 Ambassador for its leadership creating “a culture of resiliency.”

Four individuals were recognized for their contribution to implementing the model within the county: 

• Mebane Boyd, who founded the local effort and has since taken a job as a resilient communities officer with N.C. Partnership for Children

• Amy Read, member of New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties resiliency task forces

• J’vanete Skiba, assistant director for equity, education and engagement

• Bo Dean, Community Resiliency Model certified instructor and county senior HR analyst for training and development

The New Hanover County Task Force was informally put together in 2016 through the nonprofit Communities in Schools. The group, whose mission is to empower students to succeed regardless of their backgrounds, began researching resilience strategies for local children. 

“As they started their work, they realized very quickly, if they were going to make children more resilient, their caretakers needed to be involved,” Dean said. “The more they got into it, the more they realized this wasn’t about children being resilient, it was about community resilience.”

The nonprofit connected with TRI to learn more about community resilience training. Fast forward two years, and the New Hanover County Resiliency Task Force was officially formed, following grant money awarded in 2018. 

“After [Hurricane] Florence, we realized a lot of what we needed to do was not only to help the workforce keep their health and bring in wellness skills but also moving forward to prepare for and respond to emergencies,” Dean said. “Florence really opened up a lot of, ‘Look, we need to be ready in any circumstance for what’s happening around us.’”

Employees spend their days serving citizens, but the resilience model teaches staff to also focus on their own wellness.

That training has become an integral part of New Hanover County’s onboarding process for new hires. Staff go through two mandatory trainings per year to refresh their resiliency skills. The lessons are tailored to the county’s current situation. During the pandemic, coping strategies related to working from home were included, for example. Trainings for county staff are now funded within the county’s annual budget.

The CRM skills been incorporated into county emergency response plans, the 911 call center and the newly implemented PanOps team.

“This is applicable,” Dean said. “It’s not theory. It’s not pie in the sky. This is stuff we can drive home from every level of organization to not only help themselves but help other people.”

The model is centered around “tracking,” which is incorporating skills to appeal to a person’s biology and nervous system and retain a balanced outlook on a situation, or “stay in the resilience zone.”

These can be simple tasks such as taking a walk and recognizing negative feelings to shift sensations into those that are neutral or positive.

Dean used the example of first responders working 12-hour shifts and not being able to wind down after work. These techniques can help these individuals not only get through a stressful day but also have a better quality of life, he said.

“That’s what was missing in public service,” Dean added. “We were still having heart issues, high blood pressure. We were still not relaxed.”

The work extends beyond training into tangible reminders: resilience posters in bathrooms and break rooms, a hotline for struggling employees and an internal website with resilience guides and resources around a variety of topics.

The county conducted a survey one year after implementing the resiliency training, and the results indicated at least 70% of people were utilizing the learned skills and reported being able to navigate stressful situations with more self-control over their feelings. 

Dean said this model can be replicated and implemented amongst any group to navigate stressful situations. The strategies are also taught in other settings, including schools, healthcare, the justice system, and faith and arts communities.

For example, at D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, students are learning about the trauma-resilience model. It was implemented to assist the classes with Covid-induced stress and the impact the pandemic has had on their learning. Dean added other organizations, such as ACCESS of Wilmington, use and implement these skills to work with populations with disabilities.  

“I think anytime that you leverage local government to really be able to use a strategy that helps make deeper connections with people, that in itself is really a standout,” Dean said. “In a sense, all of this training, all of this opportunity is about helping everyone … regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the difficulty, regardless of what’s happening in the world around us and be able to get through together.” 

Dean’s co-trainer for the county, Read, now works for Coastal Horizons and received a grant to implement resiliency training into vulnerable populations at her current job. Skiba is focused on training within the task force.

The New Hanover County Resilience Task Force’s 41 members meet monthly to discuss resilience issues more thoroughly and find ways to continue permeating that culture. 

Last year, the task force was also honored when the county received an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties in the category of Training and Professional Development. 

The following groups have all received trainings or presentations to integrate the CRM skills into day-to-day operations: statewide leadership groups such as the NC Association of Counties, NC Association of County Clerks, New Hanover and Pender counties courts, Brunswick County, Onslow County, Wilmington Fire Department, New Hanover County School Resource Officers and county 911.

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