Resilience Ambassador: New Hanover Receives Global Praise for Training and Employee Well-Being

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

NEW HANOVER COUNTY – New Hanover County has been active in teaching mental health wellness strategies to its employees for the past four years. His model of community resilience, adopted based on the resilience training of the Trauma Resource Institute, is now internationally recognized for its success.

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

Four individuals were recognized for their contribution to the implementation of the model in the county:

• Mebane Boyd, who founded the grassroots effort and has since accepted a position as Resilient Communities Manager with NC Partnership for Children

• Amy Read, member of the New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick Counties Resilience Task Forces

• J’vanete Skiba, Deputy Director for Equity, Education and Engagement

• Bo Dean, Certified Community Resilience Model Instructor and Senior County Human Resources Analyst for Training and Development

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

“When they started their work, they realized very quickly that if they wanted to make children more resilient, their guardians needed to be involved,” Dean said. “The more they got into it, the more they realized it wasn’t about child resilience, 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 Resilience Task Force was officially formed, following grants awarded in 2018.

“After [Hurricane] Florence, we realized that a big part of what we needed to do was not only to help the workforce stay healthy and provide wellness skills, but also to ‘moving forward to prepare for and respond to emergencies,’ Dean said. “Florence really opened up a lot of ‘Look, we have to be ready in all circumstances for what’s going on around us.'”

Employees spend their days serving citizens as public servants, but the resilience model teaches staff to focus on their own well-being as well.

This training is now an integral part of the onboarding process for new hires in New Hanover County. Staff undergo two mandatory trainings per year to refresh their resilience skills. The lessons are adapted to the current situation of the county. During the pandemic, coping strategies related to working from home have been included, for example. Training for county staff is now funded through the county’s annual budget.

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

“It’s applicable,” Dean said. “It’s not theory. It’s not pie in the sky. It’s something that we can take home to all levels of the organization to not only help themselves, but also to help others.

The model centers on “follow-up,” which incorporates skills to appeal to a person’s biology and nervous system and maintain a balanced view of a situation, or “stay in the zone of resilience.”

These can range from simple tasks such as walking around and recognizing negative feelings to shifting feelings to those that are neutral or positive.

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

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

The work goes beyond training into tangible reminders: resilience posters in bathrooms and break rooms, a helpline for employees in difficulty, and an internal website with guides and resources on resilience around various topics.

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

Dean said this model can be replicated and implemented in any group to navigate stressful situations. Strategies are also taught in other settings, including schools, health care, the justice system, and religious and arts communities.

For example, at the DC Virgo Preparatory Academy, students learn about the Trauma Resilience Model. It was set up to help classes with Covid-induced stress and the impact of the pandemic on their learning. Dean added that other organizations, such as ACCESS of Wilmington, use and implement these skills to work with populations with disabilities.

“I think any time you leverage local government to really be able to use a strategy that helps connect deeper with people, that in itself is really remarkable,” Dean said. “In a sense, all of this training, all of this opportunity is about helping everyone… whatever the circumstances, whatever the difficulty, whatever is going on in the world around us and being able to get through together .”

Dean’s co-trainer for the county, Read, now works for Coastal Horizons and received a grant to implement resilience training with vulnerable populations in her current job. Skiba focuses on training within the working group.

The 41-member New Hanover County Resilience Task Force meets monthly to discuss resiliency issues in more detail and find ways to continue to permeate this culture.

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

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

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