Circles and Resilience are two programs underway in Kiowa County to help break the cycle of poverty. Rebecca Lewis Pankratz led a group of more than 65 participants at Greensburg's United Methodist Church on March 19 in understanding the life-long ramifications of toxic stress and childhood abuse.

Understanding poverty, healing wounds from the past and finding hope to building a better future were themes of last week's Resilience Workshop at the First United Methodist Church of Greensburg. Leading the way was educator Rebecca Lewis Pankratz, employed by ESSDACK and well-known for her work with the Circles organization which has roots in Greensburg, Pratt and St. John, as well as other communities around Kansas.
"We showed a movie, 'Resilience,' which is similar to 'Paper Tigers' in showing how toxic stress can carry over from abusive childhoods and affect the brain for life," Pankratz said. "This is a big, big issue that we are just starting to understand and we need everyone to reach out, build relationships, stop asking 'what's wrong' with this person or child who is misbehaving and instead ask 'why' and 'what can we do.'"
More than 65 Kiowa County parents, teachers, pastors, Circle's participants and other community members took part in the Greensburg workshop on March 19.
"I see myself as the instigator here," said Pankratz. "I want to mobilize school systems and communities to talk about this deep, deep well of trauma that many, many people have to live with. A lot of parents grew up with disfunction in their families and were told to just get over it. That way of thinking doesn't work anymore."
Pankratz said people who have lived through difficult situations and family experiences need time and space to build resilience and to be able to function again.
"We need help understanding what happened and we need to work on building relationships, not isolating people and pretending things didn't happen when they did," she said. "These traumas are what send people into poverty and leaves them helpless to climb out."
Part of  Pankratz' work with poverty simulations is to conduct Circles classes with leaders and mentors building connections and important community relationships. That is phase 1 of her work. Phase 2 involves helping families and communities find the resources they need to get better.
Kiowa County Circles coach Victoria Montgomery is helping with the next step in Greensburg, planning and preparing seminars that local participants will present at a larger Resilience Conference April 25-26 in Kansas City.
"This conference is for everyone," Pankratz said. "It is open to students, teachers, pastors, community corrections officers, anyone who has an interest in helping others."
Pankratz said that the key to understanding what has happened to people is found only in building relationships. Those who cannot find a way to do this often have health problems that shorten life due to constant increases of the cortisol, a chemical which floods the body when under stress.