Biology of stress, science of hope: Community screening of ‘Resilience’

  • By Geoff Kirsch
  • Thursday, July 13, 2017 2:29pm
  • Neighbors

There are many useful ways to spend an hour (and even more self-help articles devoted to the subject). You can get a haircut, clean out your email inbox, bake a casserole, exercise, meditate, organize your closet or catch up on “thank you” cards (you know you’ve got some).

But what if one hour was all it took to make a substantial difference in the lives of your community’s children?

That’s the aim of the 60-minute documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope,” which focuses on the implications of toxic stress stemming from adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

It also inspired a team of local nonprofits — including the Alaska Children’s Trust, the Association for the Education of Young Children-Southeast Alaska (AEYC-SEA), the United Way, the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition, thread, Juneau Youth Services, the Zach Gordon Youth Center, Juneau School District, and ROCK Juneau (Raising our Children with Kindness) — to offer a free community screening of “Resilience” this past January at Centennial Hall. More than 300 people attended the presentation, followed by a café discussion.

“We all got together and decided everyone in Juneau needed to see this film,” said Joy Lyon, Executive Director of AEYC-SEA. “It’s all about how we internalize stress, and the profound impact of childhood on the rest of a person’s life.”

Directed and produced by James Redford (yes, Robert’s son), along with Karen Pritzker and co-producer Dana Schwartz, “Resilience” chronicles the birth of the ACEs movement, a new way of thinking among pediatricians, therapists, educators and communities, who use cutting-edge neuroscience to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction and disease.

Once upon a time (i.e. the 1980s) ACEs theory was considered controversial … That is, until long-term research findings revealed one of the most important public health discoveries in decades: extremely stressful experiences during childhood (e.g. abuse and neglect) can alter brain development, with lifelong implications for future health and behavior.

Today, toxic stress is widely understood to be a leading cause of everything from diabetes and cancer to substance abuse and depression, as well as homelessness, domestic violence, incarceration and even early death. Indeed, too much ongoing stress triggers a cocktail of hormones that can wreak havoc on children at the cellular level, placing them at greater risk for all manner of adult perils. And while the broader impacts of poverty worsen the potential, ACEs affect people of all socioeconomic levels.

“The child may not remember, but the body remembers,” Lyon said, echoing the documentary’s tagline.

Of course, “Resilience” isn’t all doom and gloom — in fact, it’s just the opposite. Through an intriguing blend of animated graphics, informative notes, expert interviews, miniature case studies and common-sense observations, Redford’s documentary entertains, informs and, most importantly, never passes judgment. Rather, it emits positive energy and artistic optimism. The researchers, practitioners and subjects profiled in “Resilience” prove that once we understand a problem we can work toward preventing it; improved societal and medical practices can greatly lessen toxic stress both in our homes and in our communities.

“It’s so important to see and hear these strategies in action,” said Lyon. “I think everyone walks away from this documentary with a better understanding of their kids, their neighbors, their co-workers and people in general.”

In addition to the Centennial Hall event, “Resilience” has been shown on seven other occasions this past year, to more than 1,000 people. Another large public screening and conversation is also planned for the fall. Additionally, groups can “rent” the film from ROCK Juneau and host their own viewings and discussions.

“This film truly demonstrates the importance of supporting young children, parents of young children and people who work with young children,” said Lyon, who sees part of the solution in high quality childcare and pre-kindergarten education.

“Many organizations are already actively engaged in this,” she continued, “but we can always ramp up our efforts.”

Here, in addition to funding through the Community Impact Grant program, the United Way of Southeast Alaska offers a unique ability to bring many disparate public service actors, agencies and nonprofits under the same umbrella.

“In terms of collective impact, the United Way really facilitates our ability to effect positive change on a long term, community-wide scale,” said Lyon.

“Working together is the key to empowering individuals and communities to improve the health and wellbeing of this and future generations.”

“Biology of Stress, Science of Hope: Community Screening of ‘Resilience’” appears courtesy of United Way of Southeast Alaska as part of a project profiling the achievements of its Community Impact Grant Recipients. To learn more about “Living United,” the United Way of Southeast Alaska or any of its partner agencies visit



• Geoff Kirsch wrote this on behalf of United Way of Southeast Alaska as part of a project profiling the achievements of its Community Impact Grant Recipients. To learn more about, donate to or volunteer with the Zack Gordon Youth Center, visit To learn more about “Living United,” the United Way of Southeast Alaska or any of its partner agencies visit



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