Client Spotlight: Michigan ACE Initiative


At Martin Waymire, our passion is making Michigan a better place to work, live and play and working with clients who share the same zeal. The Michigan ACE Initiative fits that bill, working tirelessly to make Michigan a safer place for children who struggle after experiencing traumatic events.


Adverse childhood experiences are traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. Researchers have identified 10 types of ACEs, ranging from physical, emotional or sexual abuse to parental separation or the incarceration of a household member. A growing body of research has found a connection between ACEs and negative behavioral and health outcomes. These include risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death.

ACEs are arguably among the nation’s largest public health crises, yet the crisis goes largely unrecognized. It’s especially important to increase awareness of ACEs in Michigan, where young people are exposed to more childhood trauma than the national average, according to a Michigan Department of Community Health 2011-12 report.


The Michigan ACE Initiative, which was created by the Michigan Association of Health Plans Foundation and is funded through a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, works to increase statewide awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences. It helps educate communities to better identify signs of childhood trauma and has created a statewide coalition to recommend development of appropriate interventions and state policy to improve the lives of these children.


The original ACEs study was published in 1998 by Dr. Robert Anda, a close partner of the Michigan ACE Initiative, and Dr. Vincent Felitti. The findings revealed that toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children, putting them at greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time and early death.

More recent studies have verified that the toxic stress created by childhood trauma can impair normal brain development in infants and young children, with long-lasting emotional and physical effects. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics, citing mounting evidence, noted that “the developing architecture of the brain can be impaired in numerous ways that create a weak foundation for later learning, behavior and health.”

Children who tend to overcome toxic stress typically have one thing in common — the presence of at least one stable, caring and committed relationship with a supportive adult, whether a teacher, a social worker, mentor or coach.


The Michigan ACE Initiative uses its two-day Master Trainer programs to help those who interact with children on a regular basis ― including social workers, teachers, community health workers and parents ― identify and understand behaviors that could stem from childhood trauma.

To date, three training sessions have been held across the state, with 75 people being trained. The increased awareness caused by this training helps create communities where childhood trauma is recognized, allowing children to receive assistance from familiar faces within their communities. Another Master Training session will be held in Saginaw in September, creating a fourth cohort of community leaders in varying regions of the state to train community members and raise awareness of ACEs—and how to treat childhood trauma.


In addition to the important work being done through the Michigan ACE Initiative, grassroots efforts are taking hold across the state. The Kalamazoo United Way worked with the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners, for instance, to take steps to make the region more aware of childhood trauma.

Cities and towns across the state have been similarly active, collaborating with human resources agencies, nominating “Master Trainer” candidates, enhancing 2-1-1 programs, or setting up screenings of the film, “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and Science of Hope” where communities gather to watch the film and host discussions after. The film has served as a method to attract new people to learn more about ACEs and then become more involved as a Master Trainer or a Michigan ACE Community Champion.


Public awareness of the Michigan ACE Initiative campaign continues to grow. Since April 2017, over 110 screenings of “Resilience” have taken place statewide, reaching more than 5,500 people. Additionally, Master Trainers gave 156 presentations to nearly 4,800 people and have trained 41 MI ACE Community Champions. The Master Trainers continue to be in demand for workplace presentations and as conference speakers.

Last month, the Michigan ACE Initiative debuted a video highlighting the work being done to expand statewide awareness of ACEs and showcase the work being done in Michigan. You can watch the full video here, and visit their website or like their Facebook page.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Association of Health Plans Foundation, in conjunction with Martin Waymire, was awarded a PACE Award by the Central Michigan Public Relations Society of America for the Michigan ACE Initiative public awareness campaign. Martin Waymire is committed this campaign and to making Michigan a place where childhood trauma is rare, not commonplace.