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Exploring trauma, resilience & healing with Terry Liggins

This interview originally aired on In the Moment on SDPB Radio.

There are thousands of teens in need of programs like the Change Mentorship Program, which just graduated a cohort of nine Sioux Falls teens this year.

While it may feel like a drop in the bucket, Terry Liggins says he measures success one encounter at a time.

Liggins is the founder and chief executive officer at the Hurdle Life Coach Foundation. He brings listeners an update from his organization, including the people he's helped and the team he continues to build.
The following transcript was auto-generated.

Lori Walsh:
Terry Liggins is a changemaker in the community of Sioux Falls. He's the founder and CEO of the Hurdle Life Coach Foundation. That's a youth and adult mentorship program. It seeks to help people overcome trauma and achieve success.

He's been on In the Moment a few times now. He was also featured in the last season of SDBP South Dakota Focus with my colleague Jackie Hendry. And today he's going to talk to us about some of the latest updates from his organization, including a few things about the people they've helped and the new faces that are joining your program.

And Terry is with me here in SDPBs Kirby Family Studio in Sioux Falls. And I'm just always so joyful to see you. Welcome back.

Terry Liggins:
Yes. And we're smiling from ear to ear.

Lori Walsh:
We are. That's a good thing. It's a good Monday.

Terry Liggins:

Lori Walsh:
And you just graduated a cohort of teenagers from this mentorship program. So you're coming off of that, seeing this long bit of planning and relationship building and monitoring the impact of it. Tell me a little bit about this program and this group, this cohort of people.

Terry Liggins:
Yeah, it was so fulfilling and rewarding. We graduated nine teenagers and it seems like, oh, how does that compare to the thousands and hundreds of teenagers that are in need of the exact same thing. But I've come to really embrace that change happens one encounter at a time, and to have nine especially unique teenagers with the conditions that they were living through and going through and being able to be with them every Sunday for two hours. For a total of 18 weeks, we hung out with these teenagers.

The curriculum was a 15-week design, but we actually decided to have two more weeks of conversations around the concept of boundaries and just having that conversation alone and holding space with teenagers who are working through that and even adults who still struggle with that. I mean, that's just one example of the type of things we discussed in that program. And about two or three weeks ago, we graduated nine teenagers from our second pilot of the Change Program at Hurdle Life.

Lori Walsh:

Terry Liggins:
Thank you.

Lori Walsh:
You and I have talked before about evidence-based, trauma-informed curriculum. This is not accidental. This is intentional work. How do you incorporate that into a mentorship program that is inclusive of what you call credible messengers, the people in the room? It really helps if they've been there.

Terry Liggins:
Yeah, 100%. When it comes to being trauma-informed, Lori, the first and foremost thing is to understand what it means and to really prioritize it as an organization. At Hurdle Life Coach Foundation, our number one belief is that a trauma-informed community is in the best interest of everyone. So it's not just in the best interest of our organizational mission and vision, our participants that we support and their families. It's in the best interest of everyone is our belief.

And so to just prioritize it and say, "What does it mean? Are we providing education on it? What is the ACE study? What did it prove? What did it show? How does this impact neuroscience and neurodevelopment?" Because that's where the conversation about trauma-informed practices takes you. It takes you into the brain science. It takes you into the science of resilience. And so first and foremost, the organization has to prioritize it.

So, Lori, we don't allow mentors to support our participants who haven't gone through a pretty rigorous vetting process of education on first, what it means to be trauma-informed and have an understanding of ACEs. And then we look for people with lived experience and not only with the lived experience, those credible messengers, but someone who's willing to speak to that. And in order to speak to that, you have to have gone through your work to address it.

And so it really requires a person who has self-reflected, who has forgiven the people who have hurt and harmed them before, have forgiven themselves for the harms they've brought upon themselves and to others. And just those two components upfront are just two of the unique things that we do at Hurdle Life. Let alone the curriculum, how the room is set up and the content that we discuss, but it has to be prioritized as an organization and then we look for people who've actually gone through what we're helping people go through.

Lori Walsh:
What's the role of just creating a place where someone's nervous system can calm down enough to receive human connection, to receive new information? We were just talking with our financial therapist about maybe your housing is secure now, but it wasn't before. You experienced homelessness in the past. You could have been housing secure for 20 years and still carry the anxiety or the shame of homelessness with you.

So how do you create a space where people can just drop their shoulders a little bit and say, "Yeah, I can connect with you and I can take in a new piece of information."

Terry Liggins:
Oh yeah, it's so good. Well, there's so many things you can do. Little things and big things. I think of first and foremost, back to education again, because you first have to be aware and one of the things you have to be aware of is what are triggers and how are people triggered back into that space where they don't feel safe again? And there are all types of things that can cause a person to trigger, based on the things that they've gone through.

But there are also things that you can do universally that just help people who have gone through adversity. So one of the things I realized through the curriculum training that I didn't always understand the purpose of it, is making sure we're all in a circle. We're in a circle. It is non-negotiable. People who have been through trauma need to be able to see everybody in the room.

So the traditional way of setting up groups where it might be a square or classroom style, and then you can't see the exit and those different types of things, those things can trigger people and cause their nervous system to be on alert because they can't see the exit and they can't see the complete stranger behind them. So one of the things that we implemented and we won't go away from is we meet in a circle. That's one thing.

A smaller thing is a smile. Bring joy with you, sincere joy. I mean, the brain is right away wired and looking for cues for safety or danger. Before I even say anything, the brain is already reading all of my nonverbals. So just greeting people, Lori, with such enthusiasm and joy of, "I'm happy to see you. Welcome. Glad to have you back." These intentional affirmational statements with that joy, that in itself is a way to put the nervous system at ease or at rest.

There are other things as well. I can go on and on and on because I've been doing this work for five years as an educator. But just those two things upfront remind me of some of the things that we're doing at the program to ensure that our participants feel safe when we're interacting and supporting them.

Lori Walsh:
Here's one of the things that always impresses me about you, Terry, is that it's not a laundry list of things that you have to do that feel like, oh, this is going to be an expensive implementation, or how can we possibly meet everybody's specific needs? There's a real joy for you in saying, "We're going to meet in a circle, so nobody's at your back." That feels like an act of love, not an act of obligation.

Terry Liggins:
Consideration. Sensitivity. When you're being trauma-informed, you're being trauma-sensitive. You're being aware of the things that might cause a person to go onto alert. Another thing I didn't really realize is the importance of a co-facilitator.

It's so important that the youth in the room are able to see two adults interact in a healthy, respectable way. And so often no matter the environment, whether it's a home environment or a work environment or on television, we see a lot of discourse and conflict. But just having two people in the room gives the program the ability to model two adults having a healthy discourse with each other.

So my co-facilitator, we're on the same page. It's not just about the curriculum, it's about how we treat each other. It's how we share the space, how we greet each other, how we thank each other, how we celebrate each other. My mind was like, oh my goodness, the importance of modeling two healthy adults is another piece that's trauma-informed in our programming.

Lori Walsh:
Yeah. Alright, so you've got new people on staff. To that point, who has joined the community here?

Terry Liggins:
This lovable huggable, gentle giant. His name is Sheku Bannister. Some may have recognized that name, some may not. But Sheku is also a difference-maker. He sits on the Human Relations Commission of the city, appointed by the mayor. He volunteers with me at FCA. He's a USF graduate and works full-time at Midcontinent Communications, but also just has a love and a joy for encouraging and helping people.

And he's a credible messenger. If you ask him his story, where he was at in 2015 is a similar place to where I was in 2016. Restarting, starting over at a place, at a crossroads, of how did I get here? And then all of a sudden you find yourself starting over and getting mentors and being able to straighten your life out. And now Sheku Bannister is a perfect complement to what we're doing at the Change Program, and he was our co-facilitator for the 18 weeks we did the program together.

Lori Walsh:
So this program that you do is incredibly intimate and one-on-one, but also community-wide. You're looking at the systems, the foundations. So you have new corporate sponsorships, new partners. Talk about the business community and the nonprofit community and how you're finding new ways to work with people to support your work, but also on behalf of a community.

Terry Liggins:
Right. Yeah, good point. And we're excited about the new partners that have come along, but I must say there's so much more opportunity for other partners to join us.

Corporate social responsibility, social advocacy and community safety. Businesses have an opportunity to help nonprofits participate in those spaces. We all have our unique missions and goals, but we can all share responsibility with each other. And that's where I think, Lori, I try to get our community to wrap around that. The administration of justice is something we all can participate in. The spirit of justice that helps us to have safe communities and healthy families, we all can participate in. And it may not look like the cops, courts and corrections approach. It's a community-based approach. So how can you as an employer, make an investment into a nonprofit that's providing direct support, mentorship and coaching, youth diversion and mentorship?

We're preventing crime from happening when we're doing diversion and mentorship, when we're supporting adults who are coming out of jails and prison who have a history of crime. The wisest thing we can do is support those who have made those type of choices before and teach them life skills that they wouldn't have to lean upon their old ways moving forward. But who's doing that work?

Organizations like Hurdle Life Coach are doing that work and other organizations in the community, too. But corporate sponsors, they can say yes, like Sammons Financial, we celebrate. They came alongside of us this year. I've been hoping for that, working towards that for years. And we've finally got in the door and got a gift from Sammons Financial. Pam and Greg Sands, Greg Sands' story was a very similar to Terry Liggins many, many years ago.

He started over and look what he's built. So the recovery and the restoration of people who have criminal history, there are examples that we can help people become positive contributors in our communities and society if we support the organizations that are supporting them. So we're so thankful to Pam, Sammons Financial and of course the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation who supported us the second time in our pilot launch.

Lori Walsh:
Yeah. Alright. Well, Terry Liggins, I love talking with you. We're going to pick a topic and we're going to get you back on the calendar and come back and have more of these conversations.

Maybe listeners have a topic and they want to send it to me at, and I'll share that with Terry.

And we're going to put a bunch of information on our website so you can find more about the Hurdle Life Coach and his foundation, but thank you for today, sir.

Terry Liggins:
You're welcome.

Lori Walsh:
We'll see you next time.

Terry Liggins:
See you next time.

Lori Walsh is the host and senior producer of In the Moment.
Ellen Koester is a producer of In the Moment, SDPB's daily news and culture broadcast.
Ari Jungemann is a producer of In the Moment, SDPB's daily news and culture broadcast.