Tarpon Springs, Florida Update 2014 – 2015

Read the start of the Tarpon Springs story here (2010 – 2013)

Tarpon Springs Is ACE Aware
Tarpon Springs shares the mission of trauma-informed, ACE-aware community resilience through graphic design

In February 2011, Tarpon Springs in west central Florida, was the first city in the U.S. to declare itself a trauma-informed community. In October 2014, we published a story about how Peace4Tarpon was born and how it grew to embrace a significant cross-section of people working to embed trauma-informed and resilience-building practices based on adverse childhood experiences research.

You can read the case study about their first three years here.

Over the last year, Peace4Tarpon partners have continued doing presentations; some have set about integrating trauma-informed, resilience-building practices into the organizations they work for; and they are creating a more formal organization. The group’s  38 partners include local police and fire departments, the local school district and housing authority, probation services and faith-based community members.


One of the most important activities Peace4Tarpon did this last year was to revise its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with its partners.

“It reflects more of who we are,” says Robin Saenger, who founded Peace4Tarpon. “It defines better how we’re looking at things.”

Besides committing to attending Peace4Tarpon’s monthly meetings and serving on at least one of the organization’s work groups, Peace4Tarpon partners agree to complete the ACE and resilience questionnaires and to practice and promote “trauma sensitivity among my friends, family and co-workers, some of whom struggle daily with trauma-related challenges the rest of us may know nothing about”.

Several other communities that are becoming trauma-informed – including Kansas City, MO, and Gainesville, FL – have adopted the MOU for their own organizations.

Peace4Tarpon has decided to become a more formal organization by applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and for funding to support some of the people who devote their time to the project.


“One of the big changes is that more of our partners are taking leadership roles in in the organization and are doing presentations,” says Saenger. “It’s a really nice shift to see other people spreading out and doing this.”

For example, Mark Hopkins, who recently retired from his position as director of leadership development at Baptist Health System in Jacksonville, did a presentation for the State Trauma Informed Workgroup in Tallahassee.

Denise Hughes-Conlon, outpatient clinical director for the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC), has been doing trainings for the Tarpon Springs Probation Office. She did a presentation for the Pinellas/Pasco Trauma Informed Care Workgroupand at a peer support conference in Washington, DC. And she’s now the person representing trauma-informed work on the steering committee for the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force.

Pat Weber, executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority, did a presentation with Saenger for more than 100 people from the Pinellas County Health & Human Services Department who were addressing homelessness and housing issues.

“Only a few of them had heard of ACEs,” says Saenger, “and yet this is what they work with every day.”

Other organizations for which Peace4Tarpon members have done presentations this year include the Florida Guardian ad Litem (GAL) In-Service; the SEDNET (Service Network for Severely Emotionally Disturbed Children and Youth) conference; the Tampa Bay Crisis Center staff; a webinar for the state Department of Corrections probation and parole offices; and a climate change group that is concerned with the traumatizing effect of climate disruption.

And several board members did a presentation at a two-day convening in May of trauma-informed communities and organizations hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in Washington, DC.


Tarpon Springs leaders gather to build change

When Peace4Tarpon launched, the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority jumped with both feet into the trauma-informed/resilience-building pool. This year, their focus is on building a Hispanic Outreach Center and integrating trauma-informed practices. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs has decided to become a “trauma-sensitive” church. The biggest shift in any organization occurred after the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC) put a couple of toes in to test the water first. Now it’s changing its entire organization.

It began by screening participants in its support groups for ACEs. When Hughes-Conlon discovered how high the women’s ACE scores were, she changed the curriculum for the women’s groups to Seeking Safety, which specifically addresses trauma. The combination of understanding that every person they serve is burdened by ACEs – with some groups, such as the sex offenders, exhibiting ACE scores of 7 or higher – and seeing the success of Seeking Safety, led them to implement changes across the organization.

Over the last year, says Hughes-Conlon, PERC:

  • has changed its policies and procedures to include using the 10-question ACE survey for every evaluation, and each person’s ACE score is made accessible to case managers and therapists;
  • has trained all staff in trauma and resiliency;
  • is asking new hires if they are aware of TIC and resiliency;
  • is requiring each client who completes a program to fill out a “survey for success” so that the staff can discuss how improve the organization’s work;
  • has incorporated trauma-informed care in the sex-offender group by putting more emphasis on self esteem and developing resilience;
  • is revising SAMHSA’s anger management curriculum to be more trauma-informed. PERC is working with other local agencies – the Suncoast Center and Directions for Mental Health – on that project.

Saenger points out that it’s often the personal connections that can open the door to systems change. She provided two examples:

In one, Saenger became acquainted with the mother of three young girls who was working to re-gain custody of her children and was confronted with many obstacles, including the day-long travel to attend mandatory anger management classes in the south part of the county. When this dilemma was brought up at a monthly Peace4Tarpon steering committee meeting, several members, including Conlon-Hughes, went to work to find out how to offer anger management classes in Tarpon Springs. Saenger also attended the woman’s hearing and told the judge that a community-wide support system would be available to help during the woman’s process of regaining custody. The judge, who had heard of Peace4Tarpon, commented that every community needed its own Peace4Tarpon. The woman now has her daughters back with her.

“It was wonderful to hear that from the judge,” says Saenger. “I can see now that the court system would be open to this. The seeds are planted.”

"Peace 4 Tarpon" - flag project
“Peace 4 Tarpon” – flag project

Peace4Tarpon was dismayed to discover that of the five schools in Tarpon Springs, four had new principals. The Peace4Tarpon education committee decided to host a breakfast for all of the principals to inform them about Peace4Tarpon, ACEs, and explore how they might work together. The middle school principal decided that her school would work toward becoming a trauma informed school. She arranged for speakers from Peace4Tarpon to present ACEs, trauma and Peace4Tarpon to all of her staff. One of the elementary school principals is interested in pursuing that as well. The high school principal attended the last Peace4Tarpon steering committee meeting and is talking with the representative from St. Petersburg College to host a screening of Paper Tigers, a documentary about Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, the nation’s first trauma-informed high school. The college is also putting together a credentialed trauma-informed care program.

Saenger has fielded questions from people in dozens of communities around the country about Tarpon Springs’ journey, and has inspired launches of Peace4 Tarpon in nearby Gainesville and in Crawford County, PA. After nine people from Gainesville attended a monthly Peace4Tarpon meeting in October 2014, Saenger and Andrea Blanch, a senior consultant at the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care who did the early presentations in Tarpon Springs, gave a presentation for 300 people at the launch for Peace4Gainesville.

“We’re continuing to create a culture that looks at root causes, that is based on nonviolence, to increase community health,” she says.

Tarpon Springs Timeline - Click Year to View Highlights

  • Robin Saenger, artist and vice-mayor of this city of 24,000, realizes that many of the city’s problems—homelessness, violence, substance abuse—stem from experiences of trauma

    Saenger seeks expertise from Dr. Andrea Blanch, a senior consultant at the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care, to learn what it would mean to create a trauma-informed community

    Blanch presents to Tarpon Springs mayor and city commissioners

    Saenger meets with the city’s police chief and manager, then formed a steering committee that includes representatives from churches, the school district, the library, city government, the housing authority, community health centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, the sheriff’s department’s ex-offender program and other community members