With $1 Million VOCA Grant
EWING, NJ July 15, 2021 – Healthcare experts in the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science (SNHES) at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) are transforming the state university into the nation’s first trauma-informed campus with a new education support collaboration, AmIOK. The program is funded by a $1 million Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant.
Servicing TCNJ and the greater Mercer County area, AmIOK helps college students who experience a crime or traumatic event with a 24-hour confidential hotline operated by trained counsellors and nurse practitioners. The program’s comprehensive healing approach includes medical assistance, counseling and other individualized services. AmIOK implements community education and training to foster a trauma-informed communication approach for students, faculty and staff.
“Before forming AmIOK in partnership with the Center for Integrative Wellness, we used data collected from our campus climate survey to gauge what support networks students believed were missing on campus,” explains TCNJ Assistant Professor and Graduate Nursing Program Coordinator Dr. Dara Whalen. Leading the effort to transform TCNJ into a trauma-informed campus, Dr. Whalen has extensive experience as a healthcare professional helping vulnerable populations in various US locations, from New York to Alaska. “Through this survey, we found significant gaps in student access to reporting criminal and traumatic events. AmIOK was founded to provide 24-hour services to those who experience trauma and educate people to think and communicate from a trauma-informed perspective.”
Aside from benefiting from AmIOK counselling and education, TCNJ students help amplify the support program: campus connectors facilitate AmIOK’s social media presence; ambassadors run information tables at events and actively refer peers to relevant services; and companions receive trauma training to escort affected survivors to on and off-campus facilities for recovery.
“Our team is just unbelievable. I have never met a more passionate and caring group of people in my entire life,” says AmIOK student volunteer project coordinator and companion, Tulika Desai, Nursing Major TCNJ 2023.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events experienced at a young age. Since 61% of US adults across 25 states have experienced at least one type of ACE, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) claims ACEs can increase chances of illness, early mortality, injury, involvement in criminal acts and chronic diseases. Trauma-informed care is a human service framework that promotes understanding trauma’s influence on people’s lives.
“Adverse childhood experiences resulting from factors like physical abuse, household substance abuse and incarceration have lifelong effects on physiological and psychological health. If someone has six ACEs or more, their lifespan may be shortened by 20 years,” says Dr. Whalen. “Trauma-informed care addressing ACEs has been prevalent in K-12 schools and child protective services for some time. However, this approach has been a well-kept secret that has only recently percolated to other sectors.”
AmIOK Assistant Program Director and Manager of Training Development Liza Woods adds, “Trauma needs to be addressed by providing an ample support network to help survivors. With AmIOK, we are training students so that when they leave school, they know how to infuse a trauma-informed perspective into a variety of careers.”
TCNJ’s School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science Dean Carole Kenner remarks, “The AmIOK program is exemplary of the motivation of our faculty, staff and students to improve and contribute to their communities. Our school is honored to play a part in systemically changing how traumatic events are addressed on college campuses everywhere.”
Trauma-informed care is prioritized by multiple disciplines taught in the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science. Associate Professor and Department of Public Health Chair Dr. Brenda Seals says, “Because a history of trauma especially affects those who experience health disparities and other vulnerable populations, trauma-informed care may be the key to resolving many health disparities.” According to the Department of Health and Exercise Science Chair Dr. Anne Farrell, “It’s vital to consider trauma when addressing physical health. For instance, exercise is a great way to channel energy and act as a stress reducer.”
The Victims of Crime Act is a 1984 law enacted to assist crime victims through resources outside of the justice system. VOCA established the Crime Victim’s Fund, a funding source for crime victims throughout the nation.
TCNJ’s School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science educates aspiring health professionals to become future leaders across the healthcare industry. Faculty work closely with local healthcare partners to provide students with applicative skills and foundational knowledge. The nationally acclaimed school is dedicated to preparing individuals—through programs in nursing, public health, exercise science, and physical education teaching—for the many rewards of guiding people, communities, and populations toward improved health outcomes.