Today, I will be co-hosting a summit in Northport called “From ACEs to Resiliency: Promising Practices for Thriving Communities.”

ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, can exert an astounding influence on adult physical and mental health and even cause early death. The good news, though, is that humans are remarkably resilient with a little positive attention in their lives.

The small philanthropy for which I work finds the ACEs and resiliency topic promising enough that we have spent the last seven years raising awareness of it. If we could prevent some ACEs before they affect the health and well-being of our population, we could decrease a wide range of coping behaviors such as smoking, drinking and drug use, and the results of those coping mechanisms — chronic health conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, a variety of mental health issues and even fetal death, something seemingly unrelated to what happens in childhood.

This list is just a fraction of some of the physical and mental health problems that have been found to be related to adverse childhood experiences. Fortunately, we know how to spark resilience, which can provide an antidote to trauma. Experiencing trauma early in our lives doesn’t have to define us.

Trauma isn’t only experienced by individuals. Communities can experience trauma, too. I think it’s safe to say Waterville is one of those communities. The closing of the Hathaway Mill in 2002 was a very low point in the city’s history from which people are still trying to recover. Older residents often say Waterville isn’t what it used to be.

No, it’s not, but Waterville is nothing if not resilient. The city recovered from the collapse of shipbuilding, ice hauling, cotton spinning and steam boat travel in its early years. The city’s been recovering from the mill’s closure since 2008 when Paul Boghossian announced he was going to renovate it for life after manufacturing. It’s been a recovery of fits and starts, but it is a recovery on the right trajectory, and the results are pretty exciting.

Colby’s purchase of three derelict downtown buildings has sparked interest in a number of local people to step up and buy buildings, expand businesses and open new stores. There’s a concerted effort to increase the number of people living downtown and to attract other businesses, diners, shoppers and cultural arts fans of all types. There is no doubt that Waterville’s Main Street will undergo the kind of change that will inspire those few remaining skeptics to stop saying, “It’s not like it used to be.” Within a few years, it will again be attractive, vibrant and engaging.

When we are involved in the process of recovery, it’s important to remember that people of all types and abilities need to be invited into and engaged in the discussions. After all, we’ll need a large workforce that’s trained and welcoming, people who will do big and little jobs, visionaries and doers, regardless of their economic status, age, gender, country of origin or disability.

Thinking about accessibility, job training, quality child care and transportation are all areas in which those voices need to be included. Why? Because many people want to work, and we need to consider their challenges if we want to have enough trained people for the jobs available.

We used to hear that people in wheelchairs didn’t need transportation because they didn’t go anywhere. That myth was put to rest when buses bought with federal money were required to include ways to accommodate those wheelchairs. Voila! People came out to use them to go shopping and to get to work.

The same is true for the issue of people with low income in this town. The job training, re-training and career development classes supported by the Mid-Maine Chamber, the library, KVCAP and adult education are always full, but we’ll need money to expand the classes to meet the need.

The issue of immigrants hasn’t had the same kind of impact on Waterville that we hear about in Lewiston or Portland, so we have some time to make ourselves attractive to them. Immigrants and refugees have tremendous drive and often high levels of education and skills. Many were small businesspeople and professionals in their countries of origin. And the children of immigrants will be the driving force in demographic change in our state. We need to be welcoming and integrating them into our workforce.

Resiliency in Waterville depends on fostering the resiliency of all our residents. Our economy will benefit from the changes we can bring about by fostering resiliency in both.

Karen Heck is a longtime resident and former mayor of Waterville.

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