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Community Highlights: Meet Dr. Eleonora Cahill of Resilient Futures

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eleonora Cahill.

Hi Dr. Cahill, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
As a child, I struggled to find my voice. I was that kid who could never quite access their emotions. When I was angry, I would cry, which quite frankly infuriated me. People around me would see my tears and offer comfort, misreading my emotions based on my outward display. Fortunately, my mother was gifted with attunement. She had that natural ability to read my ebbs and flows, the rhythms of my emotions. She was the first person to teach me that my voice mattered and that I could learn the skills of self-expression. From her, I learned what it means to be a teacher. I began my career as a high school language arts teacher, and I loved it. I saw firsthand the powerful ways that literacy leads to liberation – of thought, emotion, ideology, hope. At the same time, I had this nagging reminder that quality academics was not enough. I considered my own childhood and was acutely aware of the impact that loss, poverty and trauma can have on a developing child. I saw this in the students I was teaching as their stories unfolded on the pages of the assignments that I gave them. It was a lot to hold, and I felt a calling to do more.

I left the classroom and began work in the non-profit sector, serving as the Director of Breakthrough Cambridge, a greater Boston area non-profit with a two-fold mission- to prepare diverse students for success in college and to encourage high school and college students to enter careers in education. In this work, I continued to witness the trauma and adversity my students were facing, and it resonated deeply with my own personal experiences. I also knew I was in over my head, so I pursued a Master’s in Education from Harvard University studying Risk and Prevention in Adolescents. The experience was life-changing. I found myself confronted with an abundance of research and data that just made sense, that delineated the ways that trauma impacts a child on so many levels – emotionally, neurobiologically, behaviorally- and at age 30, realized my professional calling, to become a clinical psychologist and work to support children, youth and communities impacted by trauma. To this end, I earned my PhD in School, Community and Clinical Child Psychology and prioritized supporting school communities impacted by trauma. In 2018 I co-founded Resilient Futures, a nonprofit that works to promote equitable, safe, resilient communities for all youth.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
My childhood was characterized by deep love, but also loss and trauma. As a mixed-race Black child, I grew up in a community where I struggled racially to fit in. There were many kind, well-intentioned folks in my community, and yet to this day I distinctly remember encountering my first experience of racism at five years old. My family struggled with poverty, which left, at the time, a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance. It would take many years for me to shift from that deficit way of thinking into a mindset of growth and resilience. Later, in my 30s, just as I began grad school, I experienced devastating illness and many long months in the hospital. There are many events in one’s life that delineate that line between before and after. For me, this was one of these times. All that I had known of the before shifted, and I found myself slipping in sands that created a loose foothold at best. I re-evaluated everything and in this process of re-evaluating, I found my voice, my hope, and my sense of direction that has guided me to the work of fostering resilience that I do today.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Resilient Futures?
Resilient Futures, Inc. is a 501 c3 non-profit agency serving the state of Colorado. At Resilient Futures, we think about trauma and equity-work through the lens of resilience. We define resilience as the capacity to grow and thrive, with strength and tenacity, in the face of trauma and oppression for both individuals and communities. Aligned with these beliefs, our mission is to foster equitable, safe, and resilient communities for all youth. We believe resilience can be fostered amongst all. We also believe that challenging the systemic stigma of traumatized communities promotes health, growth, resilience, and equitable outcomes for all members of a community. As schools and early childhood centers navigate the unprecedented task of supporting children and their families through these current times of change and adoption, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the magnification of the racism pandemic in our country, an understanding of stress, trauma, resilience, and race-based equity is crucial.

At Resilient Futures, we have a proven history of providing transformative and responsive training and consultation to schools and youth-serving agencies. We help communities to understand childhood trauma and resilience and aid them to develop trauma-informed teaching practices and promoting anti-racist systems and practices. The commitment of Resilient Futures to inclusiveness and equity work sets our agency apart from other trauma-informed programs. As an agency and aboard, we commit to continue learning, individual work, and collective work to recognize our own biases, actively cultivate an anti-oppression lens, and recognize the impact of our own racial identities in other areas of privilege and oppression. As a staff, we are intentional in our roles as a cross-racial team by modeling and integrating cultural humility and equity. The prominent focus on the intersection of trauma-informed care and race-based equity work reflects our understanding of how oppression is manifested, maintained, and perpetuated systemically. Our continued commitment is to dismantle this oppression in trauma-informed ways.

Do you any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
My sister and I grew up insanely close. There were times when it truly felt like it was she and I against the world. The two youngest in our family, we were known at the “little girls”. We were seen as a unit, and I think we saw ourselves in that way as well. We loved storytelling – it was the way we coped with all of the challenges in our young lives… our father’s diagnosis with Leukemia, the stressors of unrelenting daily poverty, the feelings of isolation and disconnect as children of color in a predominantly white environment and the other stressors that we witnessed and experienced. My favorite memory is the two of us playing a game of our own creation called “space.” We would clasp hands tightly, one of us with eyes closed the other with eyes open as the guide and spin around faster and faster until we fell to the ground, “landing” on another planet. The one with their eyes closed would be guided throughout the backyard and around the neighbor listening in awe as this planet we had landed on was described in impeccable detail by the other sister before we switched roles. It was by far the most fun I ever had as a child.

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Rocio de Prado

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