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Good News:TCNJ's AmIOK Program Receives $1 million VOCA Grant

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EWING, NJ December 1, 2022 – The newly rebranded School of Nursing and Health Sciences (SNHS) at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) today announced its trauma-informed campus initiative, AmIOK, has been awarded another $1 million Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant to expand to other colleges in the Mercer County, NJ area.

“We’re expanding services provided by the AmIOK program to other colleges to share our work with higher education institutions that might not have the resources to develop a trauma-informed campus community. In a recent college-student survey, 95% of respondents reported negative mental health symptoms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and those with previous trauma caused by experiencing a criminal act are likely to have even higher rates. Our vision is to cultivate a trauma-informed campus community that supports and promotes healing for all,” says Dr. Dara Whalen, TCNJ Assistant Professor of Nursing and AmIOK Executive Director.

Along with colleagues, Dr. Whalen presented on the AmIOK model at the 2022 Philadelphia Trauma Training Conference and the 2022 Sigma International Nursing Research Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dr. Whalen and other healthcare experts at TCNJ developed AmIOK in 2021. The program provides college students and residents in the greater Mercer County area who experience a crime or traumatic event with a 24-hour confidential hotline operated by trained counsellors and nurse practitioners. AmIOK also supports peer-to-peer campus initiatives, including a student-run racial trauma workshop and art-themed healing events.

TCNJ student and AmIOK volunteer, Tulika Desai, Nursing major 2023, explains, “Our program has given students a voice on campus. They have the space to share their own experiences, and feel in control of their own care when their autonomy has been stripped from them.”

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events experienced at a young age that can impact personal health outcomes. 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 to encourage healing.

AmIOK Program Director and Clinical Supervisor, Liza Woods, adds, “The program’s impact goes far beyond the walls of TCNJ classrooms and even beyond the borders of our campus. Our culture and mindset are all about creating a space to heal now, while also educating to intervene and stop the systemic cycles of trauma. Our students learn skills that influence how they operate in the world and how they advocate for themselves and others. AmIOK refuses to accept the status quo and recognizes the changes that need to be made in our communities to address trauma.”

The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) 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 and Health Sciences’ Dean Carole Kenner explains, “Dr. Whalen’s efforts to export the successful AmIOK model to other college campuses in New Jersey inspires not just our School, but healthcare professionals across the nation and the globe. TCNJ’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences is honored to take the lead on the world stage in elevating trauma awareness and shaping healthier environments for future generations.” The School rebranded in 2022 to reflect its robust and diverse, cross-disciplinary health science curricula.

TCNJ’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences 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. The School is nationally recognized as a Healthy People 2030 Champion.