Posted December 17, 2019 By: Shannon McAllister, executive director of CARE Child Abuse Resource and Education, The John 3:16 Center

Do you have someone in your life that you can trust? A person who will “go to bat” for you, or simply listen and allow you to vent? Someone who will share your joy when something wonderful happens? If you do, or perhaps even more so if you do not, you know that Connections Matter.

There is something that happens when we can authentically connect with someone else, sharing excitement, frustration, grief, or a myriad other feelings and experiences. Knowing that someone cares is meaningful.

The Connections Matter curriculum and initiative underscores this in so many ways. It conveys not only how various forms of trauma affect brain development, reactions, and the ability to learn, but also how positive relationships are healing. In other words, regardless of what you have been through, there is HOPE—your trauma does not define you, and you can be resilient.

I think the first time the importance of connection really registered was while I was student-teaching to complete my bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Wingate University. The fifth-grade class to which I was assigned was referred to as “challenging” and I was thankful to have a supportive and experienced supervising teacher, as well as support from the School of Education faculty.

One of the things I quickly found was that the students who had the biggest behavior challenges were experiencing difficult events at home. Their experiences were affecting their ability to perform in the classroom and were having an impact on other students as well. The only thing that really seemed to work (and it was not always feasible) was to pull the student aside in the classroom and ask what was bothering them.

While it might start with a frustrated “I don’t want to do math today!”, they would usually share what had happened in their life recently that was bothering them and often became more engaged afterwards, even though all I could do was acknowledge that what they were going through was difficult.

After college, my desire to do something about those difficult experiences that affected students’ ability to learn led me to a local nonprofit. I have had the privilege of working for an organization named CARE/Child Abuse Resource and Education from our facility, The John 3:16 Center for the last 15 years. We work to prevent child abuse and neglect and to break the cycle of generational poverty in Halifax, Warren, and Northampton counties. In other words, we work to strengthen families and provide educational opportunities for children and their families. Our programs range from those that provide basic needs to parenting programs, after school and summer day camp, among others. We also find that being aware of and connecting with other agencies that provide other support services is critical for many reasons.

The Connections Matter initiative ties these together; though I did not know it at the time, my experience in the fifth-grade classroom taught me that children needed other supports to be able to engage in the classroom. I learned that while schools and their staff play a critical role in providing these supports and connections, they need to be available and shared with businesses, families, and individuals in the community, too. It is exciting to see connections grow and new opportunities to better meet the needs of children and families in our communities.

Learn more about the Connections Matter NC initiative.