Rotary Minute – Sharon Hirsch

I’m Sharon Hirsch and I serve as President & CEO of Prevent Child Abuse NC.  I joined the Durham Rotary this fall after years of hearing about the good work being done here by my good friend, Newman Aguiar, and so many of you that I have known in my 22 years of living and working in Durham, especially during my 10 years at Durham County DSS.  As I said when I joined Rotary, I wear my  title as Chief Executive Optimist because I’m optimistic that we can move the needle to create great childhoods across our state.

I joined Rotary because of your strong commitment to this community – and your reputation for getting things done in Durham.   Rotary does groundbreaking work often focused on children and families, which has been my driving passion in my career.

At PCANC we know that prevention solutions are not possible through the work of a single person or agency – it takes a village – different voices, different expertise and different strengths – working together toward the single goal of fostering safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all of our children.  Whether you realize it or not, so much that Rotary does – from volunteering in schools, to food drives and more – helps to prevent abuse and neglect as concrete supports for families.  So, first,  I thank you.

One of my favorite movies is the Wizard of Oz.  Serendipitously, the Emerald City gives us plenty of opportunities to use its lessons.

Let’s imagine Durham as the Emerald City.  Then think of me as Dorothy….optimistically hoping we can get to a day when every child in this village can say –  because they are safe and loved  – that there really is “No place like home.”

As Glenda the Good Witch famously said, “It’s always best to start at the beginning.” The best possible lifelong health outcomes occur when we start at the beginning – the beginning of life – by investing in children and their parents to create a solid path to health and prosperity in adulthood.

Thanks to a major study by Kaiser Pemanente and the CDC, we know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), including Child Abuse and Neglect, have life-long consequences for physical and mental health.  I believe it is the most important research of our time, identifying the biggest health crisis in our nation.  It found that the more ACEs you experience, your risk for developing diabetes, heart disease and lung cancer increases.  Depression and suicide rates are high among abuse victims.  Children who experience 4 or more ACEs are 32 times more likely to have problems in school.  When we prevent abuse and neglect, we also prevent problems in schools, in our justice system, in social services and in our health care system.  Today, we know that the trauma of abuse and neglect impacts our brains, hearts  – and our wallets in ways we had not previously realized.

Our work to strengthen families and create safe, stable, nurturing environments cannot continue without allies like Rotary.  We need your brains, hearts and courage to tackle this public health crisis.

As Glenda the Good Witch reminds us, we’ve “always had the power within us” to create great childhoods.  When we come together to use our brains, listen to our hearts, and foster the courage to advocate for safe, stable, nurturing environments for children,  we will create great childhoods.  And, that’s a big part of what we do together at Rotary.

And, while I have the floor, I want to invite all of you to a free screening on Wednesday at 6 pm at the Health and Human Services complex of the documentary, Resilience, which is about the biology of toxic stress – and the brain science of hope.  All of you are welcome.  Immediately following the screening, I will moderate a panel discussion with fellow Rotary member Commissioner Ellen Reckhow and other community leaders.  There is a flyer on your tables with more information.  Join us and thank you again for all you do for parents and children in Durham. It’s essential.

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