Resilience is defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Residents of Wilmington are no stranger to having to recover quickly from disasters, especially during hurricane season. There also are personal hardships less frequently discussed but equally difficult to overcome. The New Hanover County Resiliency Task Force is committed to building a more understanding and compassionate community that recognizes the impact of childhood trauma.
NHC Resiliency Task Force started in 2016, as a few child and education-focused nonprofits began to collaborate around grant-writing efforts, focusing on third-grade reading outcomes. The group first screened the documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” in February 2018 at its annual First 2,000 Days Community Summit. Soon after, it began to flourish and recruit other New Hanover County partners. Presently, the task force is made up of approximately 100 local organizations that work toward bettering early childhood, academics, health and social situations. A few actively engaged with task force work are: Smart Start of New Hanover County, Coastal Horizons, YMCA, Harrelson Center and Working Films, Communities in Schools and many more.
NHC Resiliency Task Force operates with one steering committee that pilots the operation and seven sub-committees. They work with children ages 0-18. The task force also focuses on ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adverse Community Environments) to reduce the number of hardships that children in New Hanover County may face, and to cultivate the adults who house them.
One of the task force’s major accomplishments was the rewarding of a planning grant from the Duke Endowment in 2018. This grant allowed New Hanover Regional Medical Center and local nonprofit Communities in Schools to create a blueprint for how New Hanover can become more informed and resilient. The NHC Resiliency Task Force also helped Wilmington be selected as one of three pilot communities in NC to receive trainings and consultation from Duke Center for Child and Family Health. Following Hurricane Florence, the task force was approached by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute, Columbia University, to make Wilmington a pilot site for post-disaster planning with the needs of children in mind.
Today, NHC Resiliency Task Force comprises more than 600 community members, including representatives from all sectors: schools, health care, law enforcement, courts, social services, nonprofits, churches and state and local government. Mebane Boyd, a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s in social work, has been the director of the task force since July 2018. She wants to create a more trauma-informed, family-focused system of operation.
“We are primarily focused on education right now about ACEs,” Boyd says. “We do this through movie screenings and resiliency trainings. The goal of our trainings right now is to teach ‘providers’—nurses, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, EMS—how to deal with their own stresses so they can better help the community.”
To this end, the task force will continue to screen “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope,” directed by James Redford, throughout April. As of January 19, 2026 individuals in New Hanover County have attended screenings of the film, which are followed by discussions. The film explains the science behind ACEs, specifically how exposure to trauma can affect a child’s brain and how toxic stress increases the risk of negative health consequences.
“Toxic stress refers to stress that a person endures (especially a child) without a reliable, caring adult to buffer those stresses,” Boyd defines. “In other words, when they never get to let down and relax because of all their adversity, they are experiencing toxic stress.”
For a child, toxic stress can be caused by a prolonged hardship, like physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, substance abuse by a caregiver, exposure to violence, or burdens of family economic hardship without adult support. As “Resilience” explains, toxic stress can disrupt the development of a child’s brain and organs, which puts the child at risk for disease and cognitive impairment in their adult years.
“Everyone needs to feel safe, competent, and loved,” Boyd says. “When we don’t feel that way, we are not our best selves. Right off the bat, it’s about human connection, and that’s why this current situation is so hard. We have to find ways for people to feel connected to other humans.”
Connecting with one another is vital during the COVID-19 global health crisis. Many are facing financial strains of job loss, uncertainty surrounding access to healthcare, and emotional burdens caused by damaged relationships heightened by stay-at-home mandates. It’s important to check up on fellow humans, as everyone is experiencing more stress than normal.
“COVID-19 is another kind of ACE, which adds stresses to, for some families, an already stressful world,” Boyd adds. “The task force has chosen to focus on three things during this time: accurate information, advocacy and online resiliency trainings.”
Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, a partner with the task force, is providing four online screenings of “Resilience.” The director shares research on root causes of physical and mental diseases, such as, strokes, liver disease, substance abuse and depression. The film tackles how poverty comes into play, but also touches on the fact that no part of society is immune to the dangers of toxic stress during childhood. “Resilience” does instill hope within it’s viewers, as the documentary highlights growing social awareness of toxic stress and the trailblazers in pediatrics and social welfare that are working to protect children.
“Primarily, we want people to take away an idea toward a paradigm shift in the way we see people—shifting from, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’” Boyd says.
Recognizing the impact of childhood trauma is an important first step. Starting Tuesday, April 21, anybody can virtually attend a screening of “Resilience” for free (links in details).