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Whole Child, Inc. focuses on ACES

Whole Child, Inc. Executive Director Deb Timmerman (Photo provided)


Taylor Owens

Staff Writer

A new West Michigan nonprofit dedicated to teaching stress relief and resilience practices opened its doors in Hastings in January.

Whole Child, Inc. operates out of the Barry Community Enrichment Center, but will be reaching out into the community to host events and partner with other community organizations.

“We are engaged in the mission of education around Adverse Childhood Experiences and their impact on mental physical and emotional health,” Executive Director Deb Timmerman said.

The Centers for Disease Control describes ACEs as traumatic evens that may include “experiencing violence or abuse, witnessing violence at home or in the community, or having a family member commit or attempt suicide.”

“Also included are aspects of the child’s environment that can undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding, such as growing up in a household with, substance misuse, mental health problems and instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison.”

About 61 percent of adults report experiencing at least one type of ACE, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

They have been linked to chronic health problems, mental illness and substance abuse in adulthood.

Though a registered nurse and ACE survivor herself, Timmerman did not know about the studies into ACEs and their effects for most of her life.

That changed in 2009 when she sustained multiple injuries after falling down a flight of stairs, and was looking for ways to help her recovery.

“The only thing they could offer was pain pills and rest, and I was running a 50 bed nursing home,” Timmerman said.

She saw a massage therapist who introduced her to different methods of stress relief, and set her down a path that led to Whole Child, Inc.

“Through that process I learned that I became who I was because of my experiences as a kid,” Timmerman said. “I heard about the Adverse Childhood Experiences study and it was like somebody gave me a missing puzzle piece in my life, and I started to learn more about stress and how it affected me.”

“We all need this kind of information. For me it was life changing, even as a nurse, trained, I did not know about the whole stress piece.”

In her ongoing education as a nurse, Timmerman specialized in stress management. She integrated it into her work at the nursing home, and continued to do so when she went into independent practice in 2015.

“I have a 94-year-old client, she's my oldest, and after a few years of working with her, she finally disclosed to me that she was abused as a child. I always saw her for knee pain, and after she disclosed, her knee pain went away.

 “We harbor those memories of those things that happened in our bodies, and they show up as physical symptoms, It dawned on me that even as an adult, if we don't deal with those childhood ills and hurts, we're never going to be a whole person.”

She was inspired to do more, and has spent years preparing to open Whole Child, Inc., which was approved as a 501(c)(3) in April 2019.

“Whole child initiative is really to prevent adverse childhood experiences, to lessen the damage from stress related illness and teach people the skills they need to weather the ups and downs of life,” Timmerman said.

Whole Child Inc, will partner with other community organizations to serve people from all across West Michigan. It will teach methods to reduce stress and increase resilience to both kids and adults, including teachers, first responders and more.

Some classes will be taught in the nonprofit's room in the basement of the Barry Community Enrichment Center, while others will be out in the community.

“Every class that we teach we try to give them one or two things that they can take and implement right away,” Timmerman said.

Classes may cover breathing simple meditation, breathing exercises, basic Tai Chi and mindfulness practices to help kids and adults be more aware of themselves and their emotions.

“All of those things that can help you build your capacity to help you weather the ups and downs of life,” Timmerman said.

“So when they leave the workshop, they have a plan for what they're going to do to keep their own self-care in focus.”

The skills and methods aren't just for when people feel overwhelmed, but are meant to be proactive and build up a capacity to deal with adversity.

“Our goal is to really help folks learn those tools, help them identify what it is in their life is pushing those buttons and helping them reduce that stress load and gain those skills,” Timmerman said.

More information on Whole Child, Inc., including upcoming events and classes, is available at and the “Whole Child Inc” Facebook page.

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