Sarah Wilhelm is the new Best Starts for Kids Strategic Advisor for Trauma Informed Systems. The title is a mouthful but in a nutshell–Sarah’s role is to provide a trauma-informed perspective and lens that will influence all BSK strategies. With Sarah joining the BSK team, our core staff team is complete! The core BSK team is now 10 staff strong, but many more supporting positions will be popping up, so stay tuned for job postings.
In this blog post, Sarah shares her understanding of her BSK role and her personal story in how she’s grown into trauma-informed work. Welcome, Sarah!
As I transition into the role of Strategic Advisor for Trauma Informed Systems with the Best Starts for Kids team, I have felt a sort of integration of multiple parts of my personal and professional passions and interests.
Before coming to King County, I helped strengthen health systems globally, spending many years working with local partners in Haiti. Structural inequities are stark there and deeply embedded in the systems and institutions of foreign aid and development. As my family grew, I felt pulled to focus my energy locally, which led me to join Public Health–Seattle & King County’s School-Based Partnerships team. I can remember being struck by early interactions with government, education and health systems locally, and recognizing the similarities with my global health experience – deeply committed, smart and passionate people working in stressed systems.
Working in Haiti offered no shortage of exposure to acute and complex trauma, including the personal and professional impact of surviving the 2010 earthquake with my young family. This experience introduced me to the neuroscience of the trauma response, and how building protective factors individually and collectively can promote resilience in the workplace and beyond. The earthquake and its aftermath was deeply moving and humbling, and I still recall the collective recovery alongside my Haitian colleagues. I recently heard the term “post traumatic growth” – referring to the positive psychological changes that can be experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges. As I reflect on my life and my career, this resonated with me – it was not without some significant challenges along the way, but I have fortunately had strong mentorship and support, allowing me to ultimately learn and grow amidst hardship. Given the opportunity to form safe, trusting relationships and access to the necessary supports, our children and youth can also grow and thrive in the face of adversity.
Over the past few years I have seen these concepts resonate, often profoundly, with many others in King County and in the community. The research around childhood adversity and resilience provides a powerful framework to understand ourselves and our communities, and can empower us to make change. As I take on this new role, I look forward to spending more time out in the community and with our partners. I want to hear and understand your view regarding the impact of trauma, adversity and oppression on your staff, communities and programs – and most importantly, how you, our community, continue to thrive, promote hope and build resilience.
I had the opportunity to attend the Foundation for Healthy Generations’ Science of Hope conference recently, which was a fantastic way to launch into my new role – the conference was a great example of highlighting and sharing the phenomenal strengths of our region’s diverse communities. We explored topics such as how we can better incorporate equity and community voice into defining progress and success in our programs, and incarcerated men’s recommendations for improving schools – with innovative and inspiring integration of art, music and storytelling throughout. I look forwarding to growing more roots and relationships to promote thriving children, youth and communities through Best Starts for Kids.