Learning Circles Support Wellness from within Communities

Communities have the answers; it is just hard sometimes to figure out which answer is most effective. PC CARES is a model that supports local community problem-solving; PC CARES stands for Promoting Community Conversations About Research to End Suicide. Run by trained local people, the learning circles give community solutions a strategic boost by sharing scientific research about ‘what works’ to promote wellness and prevent suicide. The research is made to be a tool for local people to take their answers and figure out how to reach their community wellness goals.

Each research tidbit and exercise during PC CARES Learning Circles sparks discussion about “what do we think” as community members talk about the information and apply it to their own experiences and observations. People, then, decide how they want to put the new information to strategic use in their lives. “What I like about this program,” said Emily Murray, a steering committee member from Elim, “is that it’s about howto think versus whatto think. So many times, we have a program coming in to tell us what to think instead of how to think. This program is how to think. It’s more powerful when we come up with the healing inside ourselves.”

Bering Strait communities will have the opportunity to join in, get trained and host learning circles starting this fall.

In preparation, this week in Nome, Norton Sound Health Corporation and Kawerak Wellness are working with University of Massachusetts researchers to pilot a ‘Steps toward Prevention Survey’, which explores how people in Nome and villages help one another and support young people.

The surveys are being collected atthe Norton Sound Regional Hospital from 10 am to 2pm and at AC from 3 pm to 6pm on Wednesday, June 26. The survey is open to anyone who is Alaska Native aged 15 or over.  If you are under 18, a parent will need to go with you to provide their permission. The survey takes about 30 minutes to complete and is totally confidential. The first 100 people to take the survey will get $20.

PC CARES was successfully tried in the Northwest Arctic (NWA) region through partnership with Maniilaq Association, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. According to research results from 11 NWA villages, from 2015 to 2017, local facilitators hosted 64 PC CARES learning circles in their villages. In these learning circles, 376 people attended and demonstrated more knowledge, more skills, and a stronger “community of practice” with which to make positive changes for prevention in their communities after attending two or more learning circles.

Local leaders have been working to adapt and improve the curriculum for use in the Bering Strait region. PC CARES trains local people to host community learning circles. Each learning circle gives back a short, “tidbit” of research information that examines “what do we know” about suicide prevention and wellness. The information presented are as local as possible.  “Part of the adaptation process was finding relevant data specific to our region, and talking with our local steering committee about how it could be applied in people’s everyday lives,” said Tara Schmidt, PC CARES Research Fellow.

All the villages in the Bering Strait region will be given the option to adopt the PC CARES model over the course of the project. Five villages at a time will be invited for a year-long cycle involving community-wide surveys and 5 learning circles. The facilitators of the program will complete a 40-hour training and host 5 learning circles in their communities, with monthly support calls with each other. Facilitators can earn 3 free HUMS 250 credits through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Human Services program. The first villages to participate will be Teller, Brevig Mission, Shishmeraf, Gambell and Savoonga. Kawerak will also host PC CARES learning circles in Nome this winter.

For more information about the PC CARES program, visit www.pc-cares.org.



Tara Schmidt, PC CARES Research Fellow – taraschmidt@umass.edu

Pangaanga Pungowiyi, Wellness Director, Kawerak – wellness.dir@kawerak.org



Kawerak Inc.acts in accordance with its mission, to advance the capacity of our people and tribes for the benefit of the region. Kawerak is a nonprofit tribal consortium that provides over 40 different programs to the Inupiaq, St. Lawrence Island Yupik and Yupik people who reside in 16 communities of western Alaska and represents the 20 federally recognized tribes in the Bering Strait Region.