Belonging and Learning: My Crossnore Communities for Children Journey and the Founding of the Center for Trauma Resilient Communities
by David McCorkle, LCSW
Co-Founder and Senior Faculty, Crossnore CTRC
In 2009 I was invited to visit the Crossnore School in my role as an Organizational Consultant for the Sanctuary Institute. As an organizational consultant, I was disbursed to various sites around the country and abroad. I then had the opportunity to work in North Carolina, where I grew up and went to college, and where I spent a summer on the Cherokee Reservation as an actor in the drama Unto These Hills, depicting the displacement of the Cherokee from their homelands along what was known as the “trail of tears”.
I had consulted with approximately 23 organizations and almost all were inspiring in their commitment to the well-being of children who had faced overwhelming adversity and trauma. As good as they are, they were most often not a part of the larger community and in surviving institutionally many had lost the inspirational underpinnings of their origin.
There was only one place that seemed to stand out in its factors of creating a place of belonging and a willingness to learn and implement new ideas about healing hurt children and their families. And it was at this remotely located, seemingly isolated community, that had a history of healing the whole child -physically, mentally, intellectually and spiritually. The origin story still relates to its founding by two medical missionaries Drs. Mary and Eustice Sloop.
The Crossnore School was a part of the Appalachian community of Crossnore, NC and there was a sense of everyone belonging. The Sloops were faith based people and their faith was the underpinning of everything they built, including a small chapel to symbolize the importance of healing in a climate of faith. The Sloops were creating what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called a “beloved community”. Dr King’s beloved community is defined as a “community in which everyone is cared for, absent of poverty, hunger and hate.” The Sloops were also pioneers of knowing that people heal best in a community of relationships from neighbors to professional helpers.
Coincidentally, The Crossnore School’s history in the remote Blue Ridge Mountains had a fusion with my own personal values and dreams for creating community-of-communities focused on healing hurt people and supporting caregivers.
This is not to say that there was not work to be done in reestablishing the beloved community but the foundations were there in the nondenominational chapel, the honoring of mountain crafts in the Weaving room, the caring for neighbors at the thrift shop and a gathering place at the Crossnore Miracle Grounds Coffee Shop and Café, and at the Williams Academy Public Charter School located on the campus.
Throughout its history The Crossnore School had a mission of caring for children and often the community as well. Facing trauma was the first step of Crossnore’s renaissance. Trauma recognition came from those early days despite the natural reluctance to recognize cultural wounds. “To understand trauma, we must overcome our natural reluctance to confront it…” (Bessel van der Kolk). Unresolved trauma continues to be our most urgent public health issue today. My role was to help with creating a trauma-responsive environment through the lens of Dr Bloom and colleagues, the creators of the Sanctuary Model. An essential component of this model is the belonging- meaning that everyone is a part of the healing environment.
The agency was full of dedicated talented staff yet they often worked from different perspectives. Our dilemma was that like most agencies, there was a small training team and training all staff was beyond a training department. So we thought outside the box. We had trauma-informed training in the Sanctuary Model with a core group representing all parts of the agency-cafeteria, maintenance, teachers, administrators, leaders, finance, public relations et al.
This core group devised group training wherein small groups trained other small groups. It was a version of “speed dating” moving from a table that taught core trauma-informed values to another table that taught or demonstrated or used problem based learning or role plays. The
learning component developed as participatory learning. We learned by doing, practicing, and modeling. The people of the mountain community were astonishingly creative. Their region has always excelled in native folk arts -fiddling, dulcimers, dancing, weaving, carving, building, potting, storytelling and more. All of these arts were present in our trauma-informed community. We even used horses as trainers in our equine therapy program. One of our values is social learning which is learning from each other and in new ways. The horses helped us to relax. They only trained when they were relaxed and felt a sense of safety and trust, which is the best way to learn anywhere.
A significant milestone in this belonging and learning journey was the joining of THe Crossnore School with The Children’s Home in Winston-Salem, NC. This was a major step in becoming a community-of communities with the addition of another campus with its own history of faith-based care and support for children. Once again, my personal history was revisited as Winston-Salem is where I also had family, attended summer camp, and where I found a meaningful place of worship at a local church years ago. The two agencies merged in 2017 and became what is now known as Crossnore Communities for Children.
Crossnore excelled in its implementation of the Sanctuary Model and has maintained certification as a trauma-informed organization through the years. Our organization’s origin story and the 100+ years of hope and healing offered a strong base for the creation of the Center for Trauma Resilient Communities (CTRC) in 2018.
New ideas were exemplified in the leadership of Brett Loftis who brought the skills of a children’s rights lawyer and who had a vision for implementation of new ideas in the caring and healing of children and youth. Brett invited me and my colleague and training partner, Beatriz Vides to join him in becoming co-founders of CTRC. Since its founding, CTRC has engaged with over 150 agencies across six states to embed and embody trauma resilience in their communities.
Belonging is the way we promote communities of healing and learning is the way we share the information that draws us together. I am grateful for this journey of resilience in the beloved community of Crossnore. I am grateful that belonging and learning in a beloved community has expanded through the Center for Trauma Resilient Communities. I am grateful for the wisdom keepers and hope seekers who inspire compassion for others and compassion for those who care for others. Over the years, Crossnore has repeatedly taught me that ‘we heal together’. This was true when I began as an Organizational Consultant in 2009 and it is true now, as Co-founder and Senior Faculty of CTRC collaborating with many more beloved communities across the US.