At the April 1 meeting of the Roxboro Kiwanis Club at La Piazza restaurant in Uptown Roxboro, Ronnie Dunevant, director of Roots and Wings, expressed his appreciation for the club’s work in the community and its focus on children. Roots and Wings maintains a reading program with 30 adult volunteers at both North Elementary and South Elementary schools. Dunevant explained that a child’s third grade reading level is a predictor of the likelihood of high school graduation, because those who are behind get frustrated and develop behavioral issues, thereby negatively affecting their academic progress.
He observed that he was born to advantage as a white male in the United States, with a two-parent household and a large extended family. He was loved, praised, nurtured and taught, which he regards as a winning hand in the game of life. He contended that three questions naturally arise from this realization: “What is my response to this? How much of me is me, as opposed to being the result of the luck of my birth?; and What is my chosen perception of others who did not have the same advantages?”
Dunevant recalled the beginning of a new career for him almost 20 years ago, consisting of involvement with the less fortunate in our community. He attended a two-day workshop at UNC, which included a session on how our formative brains are affected by the family with which we live. This involved the ACE (adverse childhood experience) measurement tool.
This was pioneered by a psychiatrist practicing in the San Diego area in the 1990s who worked with women with weight issues. He noted that some of his clients did not have success in the program and he realized that many of them had experienced sexual trauma in their development. He devised a series of questions in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control, which became the ACE study. It draws a direct link between what happens in childhood and subsequent adult development. The questions focus on domestic unrest to which the patient was exposed as a child.
High scores on the ACE study predict all manner of physical problems and a reduced lifespan, as well as substance abuse issues and self-destructive behavior. An MRI can actually show a difference in the brain’s pre-frontal cortex between those who have had troubled childhoods and those who have not.
Dunevant quoted Laurel Hamilton, who says that there are wounds that never show on the body, but are deeper and more powerful than anything that bleeds. He observed that in working with parents, he realized that troubled homes come from parents recreating the family dynamic in which they grew up. If a child is not loved and encouraged and cared for, the cycle is likely to be repeated.
Juvenile court is filled with those who have experienced trauma in the home. Dunevant contends that children have a right to a childhood, and he decries the fact that many Person County children do not enjoy this basic entitlement. The question is not so much “What is wrong with you” as it is “what happened to you?” However, the good news is that our brains are elastic and adaptable, so destructive behavior can be overcome. He believes consistent interaction with a caring adult can change a child’s life.
Dunevant disputes the image held by some that the “new generation” is lazy and entitled. He views this as a rephrasing of the attitude of older adults that has always existed, and he fears that the number of households where functionality is sub-par is too high. He has no answer to the question of what good fortune means, but contends that energy must be exerted to understand those who are not so fortunate.
Dunevant touted a film called “Resilience,” to be shown at the County Office Building on April 10 as a part of the Week of the Young Child activities, spearheaded by the Person County Partnership for Children. He reminded club members that the mantra of his organization is that every child deserves the roots needed to grow and the wings needed to fly. All children should feel that they are so advantaged.
Club member and retired District Court Judge Mark Galloway recounted the advantage of properly conducted parenting classes to reduce recidivism among juvenile offenders. This also has positive effects upon any other children in the family. Roots and Wings conducts six such classes, for two hours each, which Dunevant conceded is not a lot of time to turn the ship around. He indicated that many parents want to do better, but do not know how.
Dunevant sees substance abuse as an issue with these problems as well, which is different from previous generations. At the close of his presentation he was presented with a check from the club in support of the Roots and Wings program.