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In April 2022, more than 80 people attended the Healthy Communities, Healthy Children Summit. This March, they met again to form an action plan. Together we can create a community where children can thrive!

Thank you to all who attended and our co-sponsors.

January 5, 2022












The Interconnection of Safety and Belonging

Happy, Healthy New Year’s Wishes for You!  Most of us have heard this phrase multiple times over that past week.  Where exactly do happy and healthy start??  I believe the felt sense of safety is the common denominator.

We are all looking for relief from the stress of the past few years, but some of us also continue to help ourselves or others cope with and learn from the adversities and toxic stress from our past. Research tells us that connection to competent and caring people and strengthening capabilities will decrease the negative impact of adversities and stressors. However, individuals cannot grow and thrive in isolation; the environment in which they exist needs to be supportive and safe.


Our brains are built for survival. We are constantly scanning the environment and comparing what we sense and feel to past experiences of danger or threat.  In fact, science has revealed that without a sense of safety, our pre-frontal cortex cannot develop or use the executive functions needed to carry out decision making, goal setting, planning, task initiation and self-control.  Schools, human service agencies and businesses all want people to be able to function at a high capacity in order to succeed. We know that people learn better and work better in environments where they feel supported and safe. 


Because we are wired for survival, we seek safety in many ways; we seek physical, psychological, emotional, and moral safety.


Physical safety is our sense that our body and the bodies of loved ones are not threatened in anyway. 


Psychological safety is the sense that we can express ourselves and be genuine without the threat of humiliation or judgement. 


Emotional safety is the sense that we can express or share our emotions freely without shame or punishment. 


Moral safety is the sense that we are surrounded by people who share similar values and a sense of right and wrong.

I believe that all safety is related to a sense of belonging.

Pause and think about it. If we are not physically safe but have other people who share the  experience with us, research shows that we will not have as many negative effects from the trauma.  Bessel van der Kolk sites research showing people who experienced trauma and have a strong social support system have fewer symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Bruce Perry often explains the concept of “flocking” as a response to a threat; it supports our sense that there is safety in numbers.


If we do not feel emotionally safe but are surrounded by others who also do not feel emotionally safe, then we may be able to find common ground, grow and thrive together. Successful peer support groups show improved outcomes.

Moral safety means we tend to cluster with groups who we believe have our same values and morals. Gangs, unfortunately, thrive on this concept, however faith communities and volunteer agencies also thrive on this concept. To me, moral safety embraces the idea that at times we will make self-sacrifices for the betterment of the group.  Parents may give up some social or hobby activities to spend time with and support a child’s endeavor.  Community members volunteer free time to help support others. We are working and giving of ourselves for something we believe in as a group.                                                  

It all comes down to feeling a sense of belonging.

I propose there is another type of safety related to the sense of belonging; I call it “social safety”. My definition of social safety is when we not only feel like we have the support of others but that we also feel belonging which includes reciprocity- the give-and-take that occurs in strong relationships. We receive help from others but also offer help at times. Finding support from and contributing to the group creates the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. It is feeling truly connected to other people.

I also believe there is a hierarchy with safety; different types of safety build upon each other. 

Physical safety must first be established. Our body (and the bodies of loved ones) are free from harm, and we have basic resources to keep us out of danger. We cannot form healthy attachment or connection without physical safety.

Psychological safety means we are also free from verbal threats, but it must include feeling secure, accepted and valued in a relationship. 

Emotional safety follows; when we do feel psychologically safe, we can more freely share emotional experiences.

Social safety can only occur when we feel physical, psychological and emotional safety within a group; it is here that we begin to feel like we can contribute. 

Moral safety is achieved when we feel a strong sense of commitment and will support the common beliefs of the group because we feel physically, psychologically, emotionally and socially safe within the group.


Some ideologies in our society are slowly dissolving social and moral safety.  Western views often honor independent achievement over group participation and support “looking out for number one” or sacrificing others for personal gain. Science, though, is telling us: social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, increase our achievement motivation and actually improve our immune systems.  Feeling safe allows us to build connection with others; that connection actually brings a higher sense of safety, social safety, which in turn supports our ability to be creative, make choices, plan and follow through with tasks that help us individually and as a group.


We are biologically wired for survival and for connection. We need to focus our efforts to bring all levels of safety to different kinds of communities- families, schools, workplace, agencies, faith-based organizations, neighborhoods and cities.  When people feel safe and are a contributing part of something larger than themselves, thriving occurs.


Pause and think about this. It wouldn’t solve everything, but wouldn’t it help if everyone knew that they mattered in the life of someone else. 


It all begins with feeling safe.


Written by:

Cheryl Step, MS, LPC, NCC, NCSC


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September 21, 2021












You’re Invited: Stronger Together in Payne County, Crisis Intervention Summit

Payne County activated a Mobile Crisis Team earlier this year because of the calls emergency responders were seeing related to mental health crises. Often, these are suicide calls. The Mobile Crisis Team is a coordinated and comprehensive team that can respond in addition to or in place of law enforcement.


Resilient Payne County is hosting a Crisis Intervention Summit Sept. 28 to bring the community together to focus on mental health needs in Payne County.


A new national behavioral health crisis line will go into effect July 2022, allowing anyone in crisis to call 988 for help. Oklahoma and Payne County are preparing for when the number goes live. At the upcoming Summit, Nisha Wilson, chief clinical strategy officer with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will share about a three-step response process. It includes ensuring someone is available to talk (Call Center), someone can respond (Mobile Crisis Team) and that those in crisis have somewhere to go (Urgent Recovery and Crisis Centers).


We have a great community with a lot of expertise. In addition to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services, speakers at the Summit will include the Stillwater Police Department Crisis Intervention Team and Grand Lake Mental Health Center.


Community partnerships are key to a successful community crisis intervention program. All members of a community such as educators, first responders, social workers and mental health providers must be working together to improve the way a community responds to a mental health crisis.


Crisis intervention programs are built on strong partnerships between all agencies, health providers, community leaders and families and individuals affected by mental illness.


Each professional plays a critical role in the lives of citizens in a community. Many assist children and parents in developing critical thinking skills and facilitating social emotional development. Professionals such as educators and social work professionals are in positions to notice emotional and behavioral changes early, and they can benefit from being aware of how a community is addressing mental health issues.


The Summit is being offered at no cost, and is geared for educators, health care workers, parents, teachers, mental health professionals and anyone interested in helping Payne County residents become more resilient. We want to help children and families avoid situations that could put them at higher risk for adverse childhood experiences.


CEUs will be available for educators, including early childhood professional development, as well as licensed social workers. The event takes place at Meridian Technology Center in the Fred Shultz Conference Center from 4-6 p.m.


To use the words of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Adverse Childhood Experiences have an impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. If we work together to bring resources together in our community, we can create a place where every child can thrive.


ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood, and could include things like violence, abuse, neglect or growing up in a home with substance use or mental health problems.


About Resilient Payne County

The work of RPC is focused in four areas: Educate the public and community about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices in their work. Engage citizens and organizations to join RPC in a system of change to develop a trauma-sensitive culture and increase capacity to build a resilient county. Collaborate with citizens and organizations to create partnerships with county agencies to commit to trauma-informed and resilience-building practices. Build a sustainable and strong non-profit organization that creates a compassionate and resilient community where children and families thrive.


Sheri Carter is president of Resilient Payne County, an organization of volunteers who bring their energy and expertise together to empower change to become a trauma-sensitive, resilient county.


Payne County receives grant for Infant Toddler Court program


   Resilient Payne County has received funding to create an Infant Toddler Court in Payne County to help improve the health, safety, well-being and development of infants, toddlers and families involved in the child welfare system.

The local organization, which advocates for reducing the impact of trauma on children, received a capacity building grant as a part of a national effort to improve outcomes for families in the child welfare system and dramatically reduce the number of babies and toddlers removed from their families.

   Trauma is something that creates ripples in a family, affecting generation after generation.

For the best results, both children and their parents have to be considered.

The ITCP program includes trauma-informed, evidence-based early intervention for both parents and children. It helps address the parents’ past trauma and meet their immediate needs as a way of supporting the parent-child relationship and improving the child’s well-being.

   The program was developed by Zero To Three, a non-partisan organization that says it provides a research-based voice to educate the public and political leaders about the unique developmental needs of babies and toddlers.

   “Our brains grow faster between the ages of 0 and 3 than at any later point in our lives, forming more than one million new neural connections every second,” Zero To Three Chief Policy Officer Myra Jones Taylor wrote in a 2019 column for the U.S. Chamber Foundation. “When babies have nurturing relationships, early learning experiences, and good health and nutrition, these neural connections are stimulated and strengthened, laying a strong foundation for success in school and the workforce. Unfortunately, too many babies aren’t getting what they need, forming shaky foundations from which to grow.”

   The Infant Toddler Court program is a partnership with organizations like the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law; The Center for the Study of Social Policy and The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

   It’s a shift away from business as usual and toward improvement, Resilient Payne County board member Carolynn Macallister said in a statement announcing the new program.

   Payne County’s Infant Toddler Court Program leadership team includes Special District Judge Michael Kulling, Child Welfare District 9 Director Justin Hoenshell, Payne County Assistant District Attorney Brenda Nipp and Executive Director for Payne County CASA, Angela Parsons.

   Kulling’s support was essential for receiving the grant, which is very competitive, Macallister said. And Hoenshell has said he believes the model and its elements are a good fit for our community.

   The interdisciplinary team that provides direct services will be led by Victoria Carney-Peters, Community Coordinator for Payne County’s Infant Toddler Court.

   “I am extremely passionate about ITCP,” Carney-Peters said. “I truly hope that it not only brings families back together but that it changes our community to better serve infants and toddlers. I am honored to serve in this role and excited to see how it positively impacts the lives for families in Payne County.”

   Community resources are a critical component of the Payne County program.

   The community team for the Infant Toddler Court Program includes agencies like Payne County United Way, Wings of Hope and the Saville Center for Child Advocacy, early childhood systems like Healthy Steps and Head Start and healthcare providers like Grand Lakes Mental Health Center and Stillwater Medical Center.

   The City of Stillwater, Payne County Health Department, representatives from the Oklahoma State University College of Education and Human Sciences and the Department of Clinical Psychology and local policy makers are also part of the effort.

   “PCITCP has a committed and talented community team that will work diligently to improve lives of very young children in foster care or children at risk of removal and their families by making systems improvements with practice and policy changes,” Macallister wrote.

   More importantly, the team will advocate for supportive community services that could help prevent maltreatment in the first place and keep families from becoming involved with the child welfare system, she noted.

View the story on the Stillwater News Press at


Carolynn Macallister honored by OSDH for child abuse prevention​


   The Oklahoma State Department of Health is honoring Carolynn Macallister of Stillwater for outstanding commitment, dedication and leadership in child abuse prevention.

   Macallister received the Mary Ellen Wilson Award from OSDH, one of seven awards presented for child abuse prevention by the state agency.

   Macallister was a founder and continues to serve on the Board of Directors for Resilient Payne County, an organization she championed as a coalition to raise awareness of how Adverse Childhood Experiences can damage the mental and emotional development and physical health of children.

   ODH cited her work with Resilient Payne County, saying she led the statewide trauma movement and led Stillwater to be the first Oklahoma community to identify challenges relating to childhood trauma and to recruit a team of multi-disciplinary professionals and community leaders.

   Resilient Payne county is also working to develop systems in the community to mitigate the potentially lifelong impact of ACES.

   Years before founding Resilient Payne County, Macallister was instrumental in forming the Saville Center for Child Advocacy.

   She is one of 30 applicants recently selected for the ACE Interface Master Trainer program through the Potts Family Foundation and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthy Kids Healthy Families Program.

   As a master trainer Macallister will make presentations on ACES and resilience science across the state and will receive ongoing support through the network of Raising Resilient Oklahomans Self-Healing Communities.

   Anyone interested in bringing a presentation to their community or organization should contact Linda Manaugh at

   The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the awards are presented this year. Instead of holding an award ceremony at the Oklahoma State Capitol, the department hosted a series of smaller presentation ceremonies.

   “Congratulations to this year’s child abuse prevention award winners for their significant and outstanding work in preventing child maltreatment,” State Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye said. “Their efforts are helping improve the quality of life for Oklahoma’s children most at risk for neglect and abuse and strengthening the health and well-being of Oklahoma’s communities.”

The full list of honorees is as follows:

  • Mark Lawson – Outstanding Elected Official Award

  • Emma Shandor – Outstanding Home Visitor Award

  • Parent Promise – Outstanding Child Abuse Prevention Program (tie)

  • Children First – Outstanding Child Abuse Prevention Program (tie)

  • Carolynn Macallister – Mary Ellen Wilson Award

  • Sally Eichling – Julie L. Bonner Nurse Award

  • Barbara Bonner, PhD – Marion Jacewitz Award

View the story on the Stillwater News Press at

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