Global Change Agent. Seeker. History Buff. Warrior Spirit.
Dana Brown joined PACEs Connection in March 2013 as the volunteer community manager of San Diego County ACEs Connection. She joined the PACEs Connection staff in September 2015. As organizational liaison, Dana has the opportunity to support organizations, PACEs Connection members and staff behind the scenes, and is community facilitator for PACEs in Criminal Justice System, PACEs in Foster Care, PACEs in Youth Justice, PACEs in Youth Services, and Native Americans communities. Learning about PACEs in 2006 from Dr. Dawn Griffin at Alliant International University, Dana was immediately struck with the power of hope and healing. She sensed then that PACEs has the power to transform systems as well as healing modalities. Now, with PACEs science leading the healing pathways, we have opportunities to heal humanity and transform our world. Dana is weaving relationships, building trust, deepening collaborations with cross-sector and community leaders. Those opportunities include being a global mentor of Somali youth in five continents advocating on behalf of the refugee camps in Ogaden, Somalia; mentoring inner-city families through the San Diego Compassion Project when their loved ones are murdered; and being on the Southern California Warrior Spirit team with indigenous communities.
PACEs story: A Midwest farm girl, my protective factors of family, neighbors, and community buffered the impact of complex trauma throughout my childhood. Growing up with the ethic of ‘hard work everywhere, by everyone,’ instilled deep values in me, including respect of the interconnectivity of Mother Earth and all living things. Participating in the movements in the 1960/1970’s framed my lens of the world: Social justice mattered. The spark of advocacy, once deeply rooted, had taken flight. Learning about PACEs in 2006, as well as myriad “aha” moments, brought me understanding, self-compassion, and healing. As more science and research took root, PACEs science was embedded into every aspect of my life, personally, professionally, and spiritually. As I integrate my work with mentoring youth and community leaders, I see that those who have been/are impacted by disparities and social determinants of health are becoming well-informed advocates for sustainable systems change. Just as my journey of transformation is ongoing healing, creating those safe spaces for others’ transformation supports my healing, too.
Chief Executive Officer
Trauma-Informed Change Agent. Research Translator. BIG PICTURE Thinker. Herder of Cats.
Ingrid Cockhren knows first-hand how impactful trauma and toxic stress can be for children and families and has dedicated her professional life to investigating and educating the public about the link between early trauma, early adversity, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), positive childhood experiences and the consequences that occur across the lifespan. Specializing in creating equitable and inclusive environments within organizations, collective impacts and grassroot movements, Cockhren uses her knowledge of stress, trauma, historical trauma, human development, and psychology to translate research concerning diversity/equity/inclusion (DEI) and trauma-informed practices into community, workplace, and organizational solutions.
Cockhren graduated from Tennessee State University with a B.S. in psychology and from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College with a M.Ed. in child studies specializing in minority and impoverished children. Her research areas are African American parenting styles, positive and adverse childhood experiences, historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, brain development, developmental psychology, and epigenetics. Cockhren’s experience includes juvenile justice, family counseling, early childhood education, professional development, consulting, and community education. She is currently an adjunct professor specializing in Black psychology, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, and personality theory at Tennessee State University.
PACEs story: In 2010, during my second year of graduate school at Vanderbilt University, I began an assistantship at the Peabody Research Institute, which consisted of collecting studies for a meta-analysis of effective interventions addressing recidivism in juvenile offenders. While reviewing hundreds of research articles, I found the ACE Study. The findings were quite compelling and, despite not being able to include the study in the meta-analysis, I was deeply moved. My thesis research focused on African American families and the outcomes associated with racism and poverty, specifically the lack of school readiness. The ACE Study changed the way I viewed trauma, especially intergenerational and historical trauma, and helped me understand that children impacted by racism and poverty are actually traumatized, and often, that trauma has been passed generation to generation. The following year, I graduated and began teaching undergraduate psychology courses, incorporating the ACE Study into my curriculum. Without fail, each semester my students are astounded by the implications of the study.
Director of Creating Resilient Communities
Kahshanna Evans brings her passion for uniting people through stories and trauma-informed awareness to her role as the Director of Creating Resilient Communities at PACEs Connection. Kahshanna has been a leading strategic thinker in various industries, including communications, tech, professional services, and wellness. During her recent tenure at a wellbeing tech company, Kahshanna was a founding member of the Diversity, Equity, Belonging, Inclusion & Allyship (DEIB/A) Council. On the council, Kahshanna played a role in overhauling action-oriented solidarity and helped unapologetically redefine the collective understanding of the relationship between equity and lived experience. As a lifetime student of human nature, interconnectivity, and play, Kahshanna studied the performing arts in New York City, traveled extensively during her early career, and immersed herself in various modalities of wellbeing. Kahshanna maintains an evergreen affinity for human rights, the freedom of expression, and the regenerative power of transformation as a vehicle for a better world.
PACEs Story: My interest in PACEs is inspired by witnessing a world without access to interventions, protection, and medical care during my early years. I would later learn my challenges were intersectional as a result of a deeply flawed system that trickles down to communities and families. It took what feels like a lifetime to process life-changing violence I witnessed and experienced as an adolescent at the hands of a law enforcement official and then caretaker. After immersing myself in personal development work, I took Trauma-informed Outreach training through The Connection Coalition, a nonprofit organization that certifies volunteers, community members, and organizations to become trauma-informed to create connection and self regulation through mind / body practices. An alchemical process of sorts happened as I began to incorporate discoveries that I made during the training and related wellbeing methods I’d studied and practiced over the years. This gave me a new language and increased my capacity to deepen, sweeten, and expand my intuition, emotional intelligence, empathy, joy, discernment and integrity in work and life. I finally arrived at the “P” in PACEs, for positive and adverse childhood experiences, and the need to focus on the role of communities to create these nurturing experiences that help buffer the impact of adverse experiences. To me, it’s an incredibly significant acknowledgement of the wholeness and humanity of those who have witnessed or experienced adverse childhood experiences. I am beyond thrilled to amplify trauma-informed awareness through my work at PACEs.
Chief Administrative Officer
Tawana Irvin serves as the Chief Administrative Officer for PACEs Connection, supporting the organization and its CEO to meet all of the operational needs to keep the movement to prevent and heal trauma; create healthier and more compassionate people, families, and communities, moving forward.
Irvin holds a master’s degree in psychology with a concentration in school psychology.
Her love of children and her desire to see all children thrive mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually aligns with the mission of PACEs Connection.
“The mission is what drew me to the organization. I hope to advance and accelerate the movement by supporting PACEs Connection with my expertise in administration," says Irvin.
Formerly, Irvin served as the assistant to the vice president of Tennessee State University.
In her spare time, Irvin enjoys reading, traveling and practicing taekwondo.
PACEs Story: One of my first adult jobs, at 19 and just out of high school, was an Early Childhood Teacher’s Aid at Vanderbilt Hospital Childcare. The students that attended the childcare facility were children of the University’s doctors, faculty, and students. I mainly worked in the “baby room” with infants from 6 weeks to 1 year and sometimes floated in the “toddler room”. Covering those two rooms created a natural transition for me and the children - as they aged, they transitioned from the baby room to the toddler room and it helped to have a familiar face along the journey. I was trained by some very experienced individuals and learned valuable tools that I currently use with my now 5 year old. I observed the other aids interact with the students in the upper classes and it was very interesting observing children at play with adults. I understood at those moments, that what I do as a teacher’s aid is critical in the development of these small minds and bodies.
I’ve held on to the things I learned and observed while working there. As a new parent, I recognize the trauma we as adults can cause children and I’m striving to make sure I’m not passing along generational trauma to my son. I have always valued the knowledge of lived experience, formal/informal education and PACEs pulls everything full circle for me.
Director of Continuous Quality Improvement and Community Data
Social justice advocate, PACEs champion, social work scholar, & UGA fan.
Dr. Porter Jennings-McGarity is the Director of Continuous Quality Improvement and Community Data and trauma-informed criminal justice consultant for PACEs Connection. Porter holds a B.A. of Psychology from Sewanee: The University of the South, an M.S.W. and Ph.D. in Social Work from The University of Georgia. She has developed expertise in the field of trauma through her clinical practice as an L.C.S.W. and her experience in academia as an assistant professor of social work and trauma-informed researcher centered around developing empirical publications in scholarly journals and international peer-reviewed presentations pertaining to trauma. This experience includes providing trauma-informed services in the criminal justice system (CJS) for over a decade, through positions including provision of clinical services to youth, children, and adults involved in the CJS, as well conducting program evaluations to assist court systems acheive their goal of becoming trauma-informed. As Director of CSI, Porter will use her training as a researcher to implemenet program evaluation to help PACEs Connection and its partners meet their goals to promote the PACEs movement through provision of positively impactful trauma-informed initiatives. Additionally, Porter will use her experience working in the criminal justice system to provide education to support the need for trauma-informed criminal justice reform. She currently resides in Athens, Georgia where she enjoys spending time with her husband and son.
PACEs story: I first heard about the concept of “ACEs” one year after graduating with my MSW in my first job as a therapist, where the director of the mental health agency I was working for at the trained all staff on ACEs using Jane Steven’s “ACEs Too High” website. This was a revolutionary insight for me both personally and professionally, and since that time I have dedicated myself to supporting the PACEs movement. To now have the opportunity to work with PACEs Connection, which was so instrumental in my shaping my life and career, feels like coming full circle.
Indigenous-rooted, raised in a tiny town, scientific-brained, 9/10 ACEs, resilient mobilizer.
In his capacity as Network Manager, Rafael uses his decades-long experience working with various types of software to ensure that PACEsconnection.com runs smoothly and has plenty of content. He resolves issues that members have as soon as possible with the least amount of interruption. He drops the Daily Digest and Weekly Roundup in your inbox. For this he scours the internet to make sure members receive relevant and up-to-date information.
Rafael is a single father to an awesome teenager. He is currently an MS candidate at the Institute for Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. He is also indulging in his hobby of learning Data Science online.
PACEs Story: I was born to two Mexican indigenous immigrant parents in a small immigrant ethnic enclave in California's Central Valley. As I was growing up, I faced many types of abuse, torture, and neglect, and knew that I had to get out. So I went to UC Berkeley and UC Merced, but wanted more. So I applied to UCSF. It was at my UCSF interview where I met Dr. Mohsen Malekinejad who introduced me to the world of PACEs science and PACEs Connection. Since then, my passion for PACEs science has grown exponentially.
Director, Education and Outreach
An unapologetic disrupter through the use of current PACEs science.
Mathew Portell has dedicated a decade and a half to education in his role as a teacher, instructional coach, teacher mentor, and school administrator before joining PACES Connection as the director of communities in March 2022. He spent seven years as principal of Fall-Hamilton Elementary, an internationally recognized innovative model school for trauma-informed practices in Metro Nashville Public Schools. The school's work has been featured on National Public Radio, the local documentary Enough, PBS, and Edutopia, one of the world's top educational practices websites funded by the George Lucas Foundation, which resulted in over 7,000,000 views. Portell has had the honor of presenting Fall-Hamilton's work nationally, internationally, within private organizations, and to state and federal policy creators and decision-makers. In September 2019, he founded the Trauma Informed Educators Network on Facebook, with over 29,000 educators. He also hosts a weekly podcast, the Trauma-Informed Educators Network Podcast, which has featured 50+ guests, including Dr. Bruce Perry, Ingrid Cockhren, Dr. Mona Delahooke, Zaretta Hammond, and many more. In 2020-2021, Mathew was chosen as the Elementary School Principal of the Year by 74 fellow elementary school principals in Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Portell’s work extends past his educational experience. As a classroom teacher in 2008, he combined his passion for literacy and cycling and founded the double award-winning national non-profit Ride for Reading. The organization promoted literacy and healthy living by distributing books via bicycle to underserved children. Ride for Reading has donated over 500,000 books to children nationally.
Portell holds a B.S in elementary education and an M.Ed in curriculum from Tennessee State University and completed his administration requirements at Trevecca Nazarene University. In 2019, Portell completed the level 1 certification in Trauma and Resilience at Florida State University.
I started teaching 4th grade English learners in 2006 and knew immediately that relationships were the foundation of learning for all students and people. That theory was the foundation of my career until I became principal in 2015. At that time, I used traditional approaches to student social and emotional struggles, which did not feel ethical. Fortunately, during the middle of my first year, I attended a lecture at Vanderbilt University that introduced me to PACEs science. I clearly remember the emotional response I had when I learned about ACEs. I was asked to join a small group for a question and answer with the speakers after the talk, and I could not hold back my tears. I broke emotionally. In reflection, I had shied away from having
relationships as the driver with children and was focusing on student compliance. Through this lecture and the science, I realized what I was doing to children—the standard disciplinary practices—was not what I should have been doing with and for children.
The impact was immediate in all aspects of my life. It propelled my work into reimaging and implementing practices that reflected what we know about adversity and the positive effects of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments. It became a priority for me to promote the development of self-regulation skills and support the build of co-regulation skills amongst the whole school community. Fall-Hamilton Elementary became an internationally recognized school for trauma-informed practices, not because the school had everything figured out, but because we unapologetically started our journey and had measured success. Since then, I have found myself an unapologetic disrupter of systems that are designed to counter PACEs science.
Program Coordinator, Environmental Justice Consultant
Climate activist, globalist, and typically over caffeinated
Jenna received her undergraduate degree in Health Sciences from Boston University in January of 2019, then continued her studies at the Boston University School of Public Health. Jenna graduated with a Masters of Public Health with a concentration in Environmental Health in January of 2020. Jenna is passionate about the well being of our planet and the well being of all the populations that inhabit it. In her free time, Jenna enjoys baking, yoga, group fitness classes, and spending time outside.
PACEs Story: I first heard about the idea of PACEs after watching the Nadine Burke Harris Ted Talk in one of my courses at Boston University. I was blown away at the idea of something being so prevalent in our society, yet having never heard of it. Looking at the world through with an understanding of PACEs science allowed me to see the relationship between one's childhood and your future overall health. I am passionate about PACEs becoming a more well known public health problem.
Carey Smith Sipp
Director of Strategic Partnerships
Disrupter of multi-generational cycles of trauma and addiction. Just one generation of trauma-free humans can end poverty.
Carey Sipp, Director of Strategic Partnerships for PACEs Connection, helps decision makers at organizations and coalitions realize the benefits of partnership in the PACEs (positive and adverse childhood experiences) movement to prevent and heal childhood trauma and create positive childhood experiences. She is gifted in identifying potential partnerships and connecting organizations, grantees, funders, communities, and corporations that share similar or complementary missions and values, helping them connect the dots between, for example, creating trauma-informed work and school environments and seeing improvements in attendance and outcomes. She is also skilled at building relationships and making available the connections, learning, and data to accelerate and expand the movement and to track and share positive outcomes of the work.
Carey synergizes four decades of experience as an award-winning writer, marketer, fundraiser, and campaigner. Formerly the SE regional Community Facilitator for PACEs Connection, Carey supported initiatives in 11 states in forming, finding resources, and leveraging opportunities to implement trauma-informed practices. She still serves as the PACEs Connection lead in communications and social media to build awareness of PACEs science across all sectors.
The author of a book on breaking multi-generational cycles of addiction and abuse, Carey was writing about the health implications of what she called “toxic intensity” before learning, in 2000, about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). A lifelong student of the sciences, Carey is drawn to learn daily about brain development, health and leadership. With all humility, she calls herself a cautionary tale and a success story in what positive and adverse childhood experiences can do to a human. She is an avid believer in post-traumatic growth, big ideas, and the power of good people working to change the world. She also believes that to disrupt toxic systems, we as adults must learn and share about PACEs science, examine and heal our own trauma, and view every child as being our own.
Carey is the mother of an adventurous son and daughter living in Montana and is restored by spending time with her children and their partners when Montana is warm, and reading a good book in a shady spot at the beach when at home in coastal North Carolina.
PACEs story: I grew up in addiction and abuse. When I had children, I vowed they would have a saner, calmer childhood than my own, so I joined a recovery group for family and friends of alcoholics, immersed myself in parenting education, and quit drinking, just in case. Somehow I knew children’s brains are wired for peace and calm or for agitation and addiction. In 1996, when I started working on a book about breaking cycles of addiction and abuse, I called the National Association for Children of Alcoholics for resources. In 2000, one of the pieces of information they sent was the ACE Study. I read it and wept. My score explained my health issues; my prognosis was grim. Instinctively, I delved deeper into recovery, spirituality, parenting, exercise, nutrition. A few years later, hope came when advances in brain science showed the brain has plasticity, the body wants to heal. In 2008 I started contributing articles about PACEs science to a medical information website. Five years later I met Jane Stevens, and five years after that, I was hired at PACEs Connection. My work comes full circle as I write about how PACEs lead to addiction and addiction leads to PACEs, and that PACEs science and trauma-informed communities hold solutions to preventing multi-generational cycles of addiction and abuse.
Inspirer of safe change and solutions, ace connector, a steward of planet Earth, cat lady.
In 2012, Jane Ellen Stevens founded ACEs Connection, comprising the social network ACEsConnection.com and the news site ACEsTooHigh.com. In 2021, ACEs Connection became PACEs Connection to reflect how the science of positive childhood experiences integrates with childhood adversity. In May 2023, ACEsTooHigh.com spun off from PACEs Connection, and Stevens became its publisher. Stevens has been a health, science and technology journalist for more than 35 years. She worked for newspapers, magazines and TV stations. Her articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and National Geographic. She began reporting about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and the other four parts of PACEs science in 2005. She has lived and worked in Kenya and Indonesia, and has been to Antarctica — in the winter — three times on reporting fellowships.
PACEs story: In 2004, I noticed a short story in the local Davis (CA) Enterprise about an upcoming child sexual abuse conference that was being hosted by the Incest Survivors Speakers Bureau. Curiosity (and my own history) led me to the small organization’s leader, Connie Valentine. During our conversation, she said, “Have you heard about the ACE Study?” I said no, tell me more. She did, and I was stunned. It explained so much — all the world’s health, violence, social, and economic ills. It also explained my life. The first article I wrote about the ACE Study was published as the main Sunday feature in 2005 in the Sacramento Bee, and eventually led to me launching PACEs Connection in 2012.
PACEs Connection is a social network that recognizes the impact of a wide variety of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in shaping adult behavior and health, and that promotes trauma-informed and resilience-building practices and policies in all families, organizations, systems and communities.
We support communities to accelerate the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences to solve our most intractable problems.
Rafael Maravilla, Network Manager