Trauma and Resilience Summit Panel and Film Viewing

As part of the Summit experience, Starr is excited to announce that a panel of experts will be assembled to provide their first-hand experience in healing trauma and building resilience in clinical, educational, and residential settings.

A special introduction will be given by Starr Commonwealth President & CEO Elizabeth Carey, where she will share her perspective on the intersection of human services, healthcare, and education, in addition to the many opportunities for future partnership to continue to empower professionals,  heal trauma, and build resilience in all children – so all can flourish.

Meet the Panelists

Mackenzie Bentley, MA, LMFT, Director of Therapeutic Services at Starr Albion Prep; oversees the clinical treatment program of at risk youth ages 12-18 years of age. Mackenzie supervises master level licensed therapists who work with various populations through evidenced based practices.

Mackenzie graduated with her master’s degree in counseling psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy from the University of San Francisco in 2011. She has a passion and investment in supporting the development of adolescents and has been facilitating that growth to youth on Starr Commonwealth’s campus for almost 7 years.

Mackenzie is also the lead trainer on the topic of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) for Starr Albion Prep and facilitates CSEC groups on campus.  She also has extensive experience serving diverse populations of troubled youth including those on the autistic spectrum.

What excites you most about the evolution of the field of trauma-informed, resilience-focused care?
"Working in the child and welfare division of residential placement, it is fulfilling the amount of resources offered through a trauma-informed lens to direct care staff, teachers, parents, and therapists which allows us to facilitate growth and resilience in youth in a more person centered way."

How have trauma-informed, resilience-focused practices transformed your approach to your profession?
"While I may not have always called my approaches to helping students or families "trauma-informed" I have always held the belief that the work that either I,  or those apart of my team do,  are responsible for helping our youth or families, rather than hurt them. Our mission has to be 'To heal, not to re-traumatize"- even if not intentional. My therapeutic approach has always been from a systems perspective in that it takes a team to meet all the needs of the family or youth, not just one person."

Why are you driven to heal the children, families, and/or communities you support?
"The children we serve are the upcoming adults that will influence my future and the wellbeing of our generations to come. If there needs to be placements for students like those that we serve at Starr Albion Prep, I would like to be a part of the teams that get to support those students as I believe every child has a chance even if they were not given the chance early on in their childhood to be successful."

Erica Giron is a Student Support Services Coordinator for Battle Creek Public Schools, serving 4 secondary buildings to drive the district’s transformation. She has a Special Education background with endorsements in the areas of Emotional Impairments, Learning Disabilities and Language Arts. Erica is a proud graduate from Western Michigan University’s College of Education. Her experience in teaching is at the middle and high school level in Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and Albion. Erica comes from a diverse background in educational experiences including, a Special Educator, a middle school English teacher, a program coordinator and teacher for an alternative middle school program and other district initiative alignment work with Trauma Informed Care and Restorative Practices. She has also taught at Starr Albion Prep, a residential treatment facility in Albion, MI where she worked with students who are in the programs of Abuse and Neglect, Juvenile Justice, and Sexually Reactive Youth. In addition to serving Battle Creek Public Schools, Erica currently also supports the City School District of Albany New York with similar services.

Erica was born and raised in New Jersey until she was 13 years old when she made the decision to move to Michigan with the goal of creating a strong relationship with her father and his family. She has happily lived in the Kalamazoo area ever since. Her passion for trauma and resiliency comes from personal experiences in her own past and wanting to give back in a way that people in her life gave for her. Erica is able to train not only from an educated perspective, but also from the lens of someone who has had similar experiences in her own life.

A Jackson, MI native, Heather Stiltner is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Michigan, in addition to being a Nationally Certified Counselor and a Certified Trauma Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from the Spring Arbor University, majoring Business Management. Her graduate work was completed at Siena Heights University in Organizational Leadership. Additionally, she obtained a second Master’s Degree at Spring Arbor University in Masters of Counseling.

Heather’s work with children, teenagers, and their families began shortly after her obtaining her BA as she developed, implemented, and directed an innovative non-profit agency, The Lily Missions Center, in Jackson. The Lily Missions Center serves children and families by providing a safe, free place to go after school for food, academic skills, extracurricular experiences, and social engagements.

Heather’s clinical experience includes home-based counseling, out-patient therapy, therapeutic work with victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking, and counseling for teens and their families in residential placement. She combines her clinical counseling expertise with her leadership and business knowledge to offer clients a unique perspective of evidence-based interventions to address life challenges and build resilience.

She is currently on staff at Starr Albion Prep, a Sequel site, operates The Lily Missions Center, and provides clinical supervision for LLPCs in the community.

Amy Swis is a licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as a Licensed Trauma Trainer. I have been working with children, adolescents, families, and the community at large for over thirty years. I have worked internationally as a Peace Corps Volunteer and domestically as a School Social Worker, Supports Coordinator, Disability Advocate, and Youth Worker. I have worked as a School Social Worker for Airport Community Schools, Dearborn Public Schools, and Detroit Public Schools. Currently, I am a School Social Worker at Lincoln Park Public Schools. A primary focus for Lincoln Park Public Schools is a Trauma Informed and Resiliency Focused approach with students and a Self Care component for staff. Building capacity within our practice and the district is a passion in order for staff and students to lead pro-active lives. This will empower neighborhoods and the communities we serve; more specifically for marginalized citizens.< ?p>

What excites you most about the evolution of the field of trauma-informed, resilience-focused care?
"What excites me about the evolution of trauma-informed, resilience focused care is the neuroplasticity of the human brain."

swis class displaying circle of courage

How have trauma-informed, resilience-focused practices transformed your approach to your profession?
"It is a fascinating and exciting time in my career for new strategies.  I am proud to be involved with a school district that embraces this approach and is leading the way in a new paradigm shift."

Why are you driven to heal the children, families, and/or communities you support?
"I believe in healing children, families, and communities because it builds capacity in our homes, neighborhoods, and personal/professional lives while strengthening relationships."

Kim Wagner has been an occupational therapist for 26 years with 20 of them in the public school system.  She also worked many years at sensory clinic and sensory camp.  Kim has a master's degree in occupational therapy with a minor in early childhood development.  She has also been certified in Infant Massage, Brain Gym, The Alert Self-Regulation Program, Trauma Informed Trainer (by STARR Global) and the Sensory Integration Praxis Test and Treatment.  Kim currently works in Lincoln Park schools as an OT for the general education population.  Kim is on the Behavior Support team and is part of the Trauma Informed Team. Kim's focus in her current position is providing regulation, sensory and trauma informed behavior support to students and teachers for a more successful educational experience.

What excites you most about the evolution of the field of trauma-informed, resilience-focused care?
"Over my years as an occupational therapist in the public school sector I have seen more and more students referred to special education programs.  Many of these students did not fit into a program, they may have exhibited some “EI type behaviors” (Emotionally Impaired) but did not fully meet the criteria for that eligibility.  Or they had sensory seeking behaviors but did not appear to truly have ADHD. I witnessed students in the general education setting who put their heads down and refused to do any work or had severe behaviors and were punished with removal or privileges revoked.  Many of us knew these were not “bad kids” or children who belonged in a secluded setting but we did not have the right answers as to the “whys” of their behavior or how to help these children.  And then we learned about trauma and how it affects the brain, how it affects a child’s development and a child’s whole life.  We started asking the right questions and coming up with some right answers as a result.  I am excited that trauma-informed, resilience- focused care is not only being investigated but programs are developing.  This means that all children will benefit.  This means that educators will have more resources at their disposal.  Research shows that all staff and students benefit from trauma-informed practices being implemented in the school system whether they have themselves experienced trauma. The National Association of School Psychologists have identified that trauma-informed practices promote feelings or physical, emotional and social safety for students and staff. I am ecstatic that children are now being looked at as just that, children – not good or bad, not a label or an eligibility, but children first.  We have a long way to go but I believe we are on the right path.  I know we are in Lincoln Park, I have seen so many positive changes."

How have trauma-informed, resilience-focused practices transformed your approach to your profession?
"I am definitely more curious and empathetic than I used to be.  I have worked for a long time with students on sensory regulation, so in regards to sensory processing I have always been open and curious, observing children to figure out what type of sensory input they need for success and comfort.  However, that did not always apply to my work with students regarding challenging behaviors.  Through education on trauma, its effect on us, and resilience practices I have become more open and curious when challenging behaviors are involved.  I observe, interact, engage and explore more, asking students what they need and offer suggestions as to what might help them feel more secure.  I notice our district does not go straight to punitive measures anymore and I have become creative with restorative resolutions working on repairing relationships rather than them being further torn down.  I, along with my colleagues, hear our students’ voices more now."

Why are you driven to heal the children, families, and/or communities you support?
"I am naturally a very empathetic person; I don’t think anyone who goes into our fields are not empathetic.  We are driven to help others.  For a long time I thought helping was fixing.  I learned through a family difficulty that fixing is not helping.  Supporting and providing resources helps others become more independent and leads to healing.  In my previous school position, I worked with students individually or a small group but in a setting separate from a classroom.  I did not see the change I hoped for, for my students.  I transferred to my current school district and my role was vastly different.  I was able to help whole classrooms, whole schools and was responsible for the whole district.  It was overwhelming but exciting.  My primary role is on the Behavior Support Team working with students who have severe behavior.  I met a student who had been severely abused by his own family member.  He was abused physically and sexually and deprived of any comfort at a very early age.  I saw the damage that abuse did to this child.  He was in “flight or fight” mode all of the time, never in “freeze” mode.  He eloped out of the classroom multiple times in an hour.  The slightest challenge or sense of being overwhelmed sent him into acts of physical aggression I had never seen before in anyone.  And my heart broke.  Cognitively I knew abuse happens, but I had never realized the depths of its damage.  This poor child was out of his skin all of the time.  He has gotten a lot of help and stability and is doing so much better, but it will take years for him to feel safe.  I pray that he finds continued peace and comfort.  Any time my job feels overwhelming or difficult, or I am faced with a student who is exhibiting damaging and frustrating behaviors, I think of that first little boy.  I know that I have to show up for him and all of our children every single day because they deserve it."

Following our expert panel, we will be showing the film Resilience: the Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope, with a Q&A with Starr Director of Professional Training & Coaching Kathy Hart.

This event is free and open to the public. We encourage all attendees to invite their colleagues to this important forum. If you know someone who is driven to heal, refer them to our RSVP page, and you'll receive a coupon code for 20% any eLearning product on our store when they attend.

Register for the full summit

By Matt Ray

About Starr Commonwealth

Starr Commonwealth is dedicated to the mission to lead with courage to create positive experiences so that all children, families, and communities flourish. We specialize in residential, community-based, educational, and professional training programs that build on the strengths of children, adults, and families in communities around the world. To schedule a training or consultation, please contact or call 800-837-5591.