Club works to lessen effects of childhood trauma

Jennifer Morlan | Apr 20, 2020
Club reads to children

A Kiwanis club with a roster full of former educators is making a difference in the lives of children at three Nashville, Tennessee, elementary schools.  
The Kiwanis Club of Greater Music City received a grant in October from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund to launch a program that uses reading and mentoring to mitigate the effects of trauma on children. The club’s project is part of a statewide effort called Building Better Brains. The program addresses adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, said Vic Legerton, president of the Greater Music City club.  
Research shows that exposure to violence or other trauma at an early age disrupts brain development, affecting physical and emotional health, cognitive development and behavior into adulthood. 
In Tennessee, more than half of all children have at least one ACE marker — and more than a quarter have experienced three or more. This means they have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, or family dysfunction with addiction, incarceration, severe illness, divorce or separation, and abuse.  
That’s why the club created the Kiwanis Children's Health, Education & Welfare (KCHEW) program, said Legerton. 
Kiwanis volunteers read to children. “Providing children with safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments can build strong brain architecture” and lessen the effect of trauma, he said. 
While using books, club members talk with children about self-awareness, respect, building relationships and making good decisions.  
The club’s former teachers established partnerships with the Metro Nashville Public Schools system, Tennessee Association for Early Childhood Success, ReadyNation Tennessee, Children’s Kindness Network and others. They also worked with Kiwanis partners Scholastic and Reading is Fundamental. 
Legerton said getting the grant from the Children’s Fund was instrumental in launching the program. “The grant also serves as credible leverage for fundraising including local corporate, family and private foundation grants and contributions,” he said. 
In February and March, the club read to children in three Nashville elementary schools and donated more than 1,100 books — purchasing most of them at a substantial discount through Kiwanis International’s partnership with Scholastic. 
Because of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greater Music City Club has begun creating a virtual learning series of documents and videos to address health, education and social learning topics, Legerton said. The resources will also be available for use during school breaks and for families who home school. The club will also hold a virtual fundraiser on May 6.  
Legerton said the students have been curious during the reading sessions and appreciate receiving the books. The club has also received positive feedback from parents, principals, community coordinators and teachers.  
“For our former teachers who still have a passion for teaching and children,” Legerton said, “there has been an extra joy because they can enjoy the favorite part of their career without the burden of heaving to prepare lesson plans, deal with discipline issues, give and grade tests, attend faculty meetings, or compute and record grades.” 
The club has also seen club membership increase and now has dozens of prospects. “The KCHEW project directly serving children has been the biggest incentive for recruiting members,” Legerton said.  

Learn more about the Kiwanis Children’s Fund club grant program at

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