The Strengthening Colorado Families and Communities Conference is less than two months away, and we are excited to welcome Dr. Wendy Ellis as one of our engaging keynote presenters.

It is immediately apparent how Dr. Ellis’ work relates to the theme of this year’s conference, Flourishing in Times of Change. Many folks in the family support continuum are familiar with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are potentially traumatic experiences that occur in childhood. Dr. Ellis’ work expands on this idea by introducing the concept of Adverse Community Environments, which describe the systemic inequities that lead to ACEs, such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of opportunity, economic mobility and social capital. Addressing these systemic environmental factors can create supports and buffers that help children, families and communities thrive.

One way of visualizing the relationship between ACEs and Adverse Community Environments is through the Pair of ACEs tree (below). In the tree, ACEs are the branches and leaves, representing symptoms of the systemic inequities that result from being planted in the soil of Adverse Community Environments. 

Dr. Wendy Ellis

Dr. Wendy Ellis

Assistant Professor and Director, Center for Community Resilience

Dr. Wendy Ellis is an Assistant Professor in Global Health and the Director of the Center for Community Resilience at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. The Center for Community Resilience seeks to improve the health of communities by enabling cross-sectoral partners to align policy, program and practice to address adverse childhood experiences in the context of adverse community environments.


In an interview with Kentucky Educational Television (KET), Dr. Ellis said, “We can’t just focus on the outcomes, those things that we see on the branches and the leaves, without considering the context in which these adversities occur.”

“The differences in the supports and buffers in these children’s environments absolutely inform how they will bounce back from that adversity and be able to thrive.”

Dr. Wendy Ellis

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Ellis’ team has also adapted the tree visualization to make sense of Adverse Community Experiences that have emerged from the “pandemic within the pandemic,” including environmental factors like housing instability, unemployment, lack of paid leave, and lack of access to technology, remote work and education opportunities.

The end goal of Dr. Ellis’ work is not just to identify Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adverse Community Environments, but to create systems change and address long-standing economic, social and health disparities by developing “customized solution[s] to promote resilience in communities by improving access to supports and buffers that help individuals ‘bounce back’ and communities thrive.” This body of work speaks to the idea that we can work to create environments that help all children and families flourish in this ever-changing world.

Tell Me More About the Keynote Presentation

Dr. Ellis’ keynote is titled “Community Resilience: A Framework for Children & Families”:

Dr. Ellis will discuss how to apply a community resilience framework with a public health perspective to address mental and behavioral health. Using the concept of the “Pair of ACEs”—adverse childhood experiences in the context of adverse community environments—Dr. Ellis will share concrete examples of how multiple sectors including housing, public education, law enforcement and criminal justice are collaborating to address many of the antecedents that contribute to maladaptive behaviors, criminality and negative health outcomes. Attendees will learn how to identify key community assets and resources, promote upstream efforts to address social determinants and build community resilience using the Center’s Resilience Tree framing.

To hear Dr. Ellis’ keynote or to attend any of our fantastic breakout sessions, join us September 19-21 in Pueblo, CO.

Hear More from Dr. Ellis

Surviving a Pandemic: Dr. Wendy Ellis

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, protests against racism and police brutality have swept through cities and towns across the country following the death of George Floyd. 

Hosted by Frank Sesno, Healthy You: Surviving a Pandemic is a co-production of the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and the School of Media and Public Affairs.

Interview with Dr. Wendy Ellis | Healing Childhood Trauma

In this segment from Healing Childhood Trauma: A KET Special Report, host Renee Shaw speaks with Dr. Wendy R. Ellis, director of the Center for Community Resilience at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

About the Conference

The Strengthening Colorado Families and Communities Conference is a biennial event and is a joint collaboration across the family support continuum, from prevention and public health through restoration and child welfare. 

Presented in Partnership by:

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