By Carl Etnier
On Easter Sunday, the psychologist’s motorcycle was parked in the middle of the sidewalk leading up to the Plainfield Opera House. Inside, Dustin Dippen was following flowing movement exercises led by traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Baylen Slote, with meditative flute music playing in the background. At a table, art teacher Mary Blake sat and painted stones. It was all part of what Dippen called an experiment, creating a space for people to come together and connect with others, to build their resilience. Indeed, the tag line for the series is “To make us all stronger.”
On Mother’s Day (May 12), the “Resiliency Sundays” experiment will finish its initial run of six Sundays. At the Easter gathering, Dippen announced it would continue over the summer up Route 2 a piece, at the Onion River Campground.
After an older man and woman left as the movement exercises began, the group was down to Dippen, Blake, Slote, this reporter, and Maggie Morris from Montpelier. Dippen said 8–12 people had come the previous two Sundays; he didn’t seem surprised that attendance was down on Easter Sunday.
Dippen, who practices at the Health Center in Plainfield, said the idea came from a conversation around a table. “A pediatrician was talking about how one of the best interventions they had with families that were struggling was to get someone out into their home, out of the clinic, and figure out what they needed. Maybe it’s a bus ticket. Perhaps it’s a ride to the grocery store. Maybe it’s someone to help the children. And we were talking about how some things that help the most are just bonding with people, connecting—things that get you out of your head: art, music, movement, socializing with people. We wondered, how can we bring this back out into the community, so people don’t have to make an appointment, don’t have to see a doctor?”
Each event runs 12:30–2:30 pm, with light food and drinks available the whole time. They begin with informal conversation, followed by a film and then movement exercises to music. An art table offers participants a chance to do something with their hands throughout.
The series was billed as promoting the awareness of adverse childhood experiences and their effects on adult health and well being. However, before the first event, I asked Dippen why he thought people would be interested in spending a Sunday afternoon talking about a difficult subject like childhood trauma. By Easter Sunday, he was reconsidering the focus. “Some people do want a venue where it’s OK to acknowledge this thing that happened. And other people, I think it kind of repulses them.”
The final event at the Plainfield Opera House, on May 12, will feature physician assistant Kim Pierce’s film The Faces of ACEs, a half-hour look at how clinicians who take time to learn about their patients’ childhood traumas can do a better job of preventing and treating adult illnesses, including cardiovascular or liver disease and other maladies not intuitively connected to mental trauma. After the film and a discussion, Dippen’s wife, Peggy Laro, will lead yoga.
Dippen said he thought organizing the series would be another job for him, but, he said, “It has paid back in spades. It helps me, when I go in at 3 am, and I’m like ‘Oh here’s just another patient who’s got a problem, and I had to get out of bed.’ I see people as a person. It’s ‘Oh yes, remember, it’s about people.’”
He also has been surprised by the number of people who come to offer their own tips on resiliency, not just to seek his expertise and healing. “That was a really big twist that I didn’t anticipate,” he said.