Creative Solutions

A “Creative” Approach to Trauma-Informed Practices

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By Stephanie Drenka

For more than 20 years, Big Thought has partnered with the Dallas County Juvenile Department and Southern Methodist University to provide trauma-informed job training to adjudicated young people through the arts. Through this process, youth are able to express their voice in a safe space and gain skills associated with job and college readiness such as teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving, critical thinking and communication.

Many of the young participants in this program have a high number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and cope with chronic, heightened stress in their daily lives.

“Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—which include emotional or physical neglect; verbal humiliation; growing up with an addicted or mentally ill family member; and parental abandonment, divorce, or loss — can harm developing brains, predisposing them to autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer, depression, and a number of other chronic conditions, decades after the trauma took place.” (Psychology Today)

According to research about childhood trauma, risk factors can be offset by the presence of a stable, caring adult in a child’s life. Lisa Schmidt, the founder of Creative Solutions, has been one such adult for hundreds of young people over the years.

She describes some of the symptoms that surface with trauma-affected youth:

Early childhood trauma can actually impact brain development.

One of the things we’ve seen is that 16-17-year-olds who have experienced trauma are often responding emotionally, and sometimes intellectually, like someone an average of 2-3 years younger. So, you’d see a 16-year-old responding emotionally more like a 13-year-old, having difficulty with abstract thinking.

And we see students who have shut down all emotions, and one of the only ways they can feel is in extremes— extreme ecstatic happiness or extreme anger, but there is no middle ground.

Often when you ask kids, “are you angry?” They say “No, I’m never angry” or “No, I never cry.” They’ve shut themselves off from basic healthy emotions.

They also respond to facial expressions differently. Their brains have been conditioned to read adult facial expressions as ones of anger. You may be looking at a child with a quizzical look, but they misread it as distrust. 


As the number of adverse early childhood experiences mounts, so does the risk of developmental delays. Source: Barth et al (2008).

Credit: Center on the Developing Child.

Teenagers are not the only ones who are impacted by trauma, and the symptoms are numerous.

“The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and other problems. Adults with more adverse experiences in early childhood are also more likely to have health problems, including alcoholism, depression, heart disease, and diabetes.” (Harvard)

In order to help children and teenagers who have been affected by these adverse experiences, trauma-informed practices and models are necessary. These are typically organized around the principles of safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, and empowerment.

At Big Thought, we weave these concepts of social emotional learning into every one of our programs. Lisa founded Creative Solutions with the mantra, “It’s not where you’ve been that determines who you can become, it’s where you will go and what you will do!”

That philosophy continues to empower Creative Solutions and all of Big Thought’s work.

Big ThoughtA “Creative” Approach to Trauma-Informed Practices

The Incredible Lisa Schmidt

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By Carson Bolding

Last night, Studio Movie Grill honored Big Thought’s own Lisa Schmidt with their third annual Opening Hearts and Minds Award, an award presented to leaders who go above and beyond to create positive change in their communities. The night included a red carpet and a special screening of Incredibles 2 to honor this incredible woman.

Lisa is the founder of Creative Solutions, a program that uses performing and visual arts to teach job and college readiness skills to youth on probation. For over 30 years, Lisa has been impacting young people across the Dallas-Fort Worth area and inspiring those who work alongside her. Her influence and energy is exemplified by the words shared by her family, friends, co-workers, and students.

“[This award] acknowledges the wonderful and passionate work Lisa does. And it’s all because her heart is so full of life and joy and so much creativity to share with so many children across the Dallas metroplex.” (Mary Hernandez)

“Passionate advocate. Nobody works harder, works longer, and is more passionate about serving kids than Lisa.” (Greg MacPherson)

“When I started in the program, I was very angry. I didn’t even want to smile. But she would come up to me and break me out of that shell, make me smile, make me laugh.” (Bone García)

“Inspiring. She’s full of energy. She’s done countless things to help youth across Dallas. She motivates us to no end.” (Kristi Flanders)

“Her passion goes beyond barriers, beyond culture, beyond skin color.” (James Adams)

Click here to view more photos from this “incredible” event.

Big ThoughtThe Incredible Lisa Schmidt

Youth Voice

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By, Christian Morales

What is one thing every person has, but might not know how to use? A voice. In some way or form, everyone can express themselves. As a matter of fact, some of the most impactful voices are the ones we either refuse to acknowledge or ones that can’t physically be heard.

Big ThoughtYouth Voice

The Trauma of Bullying

By Christian Morales, Youth Development Correspondent

Everyone in some shape or form has been involved in bullying. Whether you witnessed it, were a victim or even were a bully. Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. I’ve seen first hand what physical issues can come from bullying, most from the amount of stress a person has. Headaches, muscle pains and contractions, digestive upset, and altered immune functionality are real effects that a person can experience through being bullied.

Big ThoughtThe Trauma of Bullying