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  • Writer's pictureKatie Kelly

Our Story

In 2017, I worked as a Management Analyst at the City of Peoria Police Department. One of my roles was to write and manage violence reduction and prevention grants. For these grants, we focused on developing early intervention, prevention, and diversion programs for at-risk youth that would take social determinants of health into consideration. In Peoria, we are blessed with an abundance of resources, but we also face incredibly high need. We are consistently named one of the worst cities for African Americans to live.

In March 2017, stakeholders across a range of sectors were brough together for the first Trauma Informed Symposium hosted by our Regional Office of Education. Having been part of several community coalitions tackling these issues from multidisciplinary perspectives, I was both inspired and frustrated by the education sessions on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on health, education, and juvenile justice.

My Epiphany:

The research paints a clear signpost for opportunities for intervention to support youth and protect against the negative effects of trauma. If we know the potential negative consequences, why were we waiting until something goes wrong-like suspension or arrest or mental health crisis- to act?

Schools are the front line for supporting youth, it is where they spend most of their day after all. One of the most powerful protective factors is a trusted adult at school, someone who can help the student process toxic stress and re-regulate to be ready to learn. The difficulty is in knowing which students need that connection, and when.

Teachers and staff are the people best positioned to provide interventions to mitigate the effects of trauma and toxic stress, but the symptoms of that trauma might be invisible and they can’t always know what goes on at home and in the community. Those invisible symptoms, or “trauma brain” can prevent a child from being able to learn.

Meanwhile, first responders in the community ARE aware of what many children are experiencing, especially related to ACE events. What if schools could be looped in and given a heads up that a student may have experienced a traumatic event the night before? Schools could then use their best and most abundant resource- people- to support that student, helping them re-regulate and be ready to learn.

My Brainstorm:

In my experience, the main barrier to effective early intervention is cross-system communication. Information sharing between sectors is complicated by privacy laws, differences in technology, differences in culture. I was determined to overcome those barriers, and in the end, we built Lifting Up to do it.

I applied for the DOJ Technology Innovations in Public Safety Grant to build a technology system that would flag at-risk youth at school if that student had been exposed to an ACE event so resources and supports could be provided. We won the grant, all the stakeholders came on board, and we began the search for a vendor to build the solution. Before we could issue the RFP, in August 2018 my position was eliminated in a round of budget cuts. Ultimately, the grant was returned to the Department of Justice.

I thought that was the end of that.

My Solution:

Six months later, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I continued to vet vendors to find a partner who could develop the technology. No one I spoke with really understood the problem. The suggested solutions were band-aids, or reliant on people to manually enter information in an app or a form.

My family was visiting me in Flagstaff, AZ in February 2019. While we were hiking the Grand Canyon, I pitched the idea to my brother, who recently left his position as a software developer at Epic, the electronic health records company. He had been advising me as I spoke with bigger technology companies, and he understood the challenges I faced. If anyone knew about the complexities and challenges of information sharing between systems, it was him. He miraculously agreed to join me and build the solution ourselves.

So, in June of 2019, Lifting Up was born. We re-con

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