Building Resilience and Hope among Cherokee Parents

May 17, 2018

Many families learn to "turn lemons into lemonade" as they transform challenges into opportunities. Cherokee families in Oklahoma are being supported in that effort by a new program called Lemonade for Life. Home visitors use the program to help families understand how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can affect child development, relationships and health. The goal is to prevent the harmful effects of ACEs on children’s success in school and adult life.

Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma SafeCare SealThe first step is for home visitors to use a questionnaire to determine their own ACE scores. “If you’re a home visitor who has a high ACE score of your own, some of the things these families are going through can trigger something in you and could affect the way you’re helping this family,” said Amy Thilges, Program Coordinator of the Cherokee Parents Tribal Home Visiting Program.

The questionnaire scores are used not to judge, but to enlighten. “If you have a high ACE score, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still prevail,” said Thilges. “It just helps you understand what you’ve been through, how far you’ve come and how you can still help your child. There's a lot of good materials for families, including videos about the how trauma impacts young children. The whole concept is to raise your child to have a lower ACE score than you have and know how to handle adversity.”

Lemonade for Life is one of many collaborations between Oklahoma’s Tribal and State programs for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV). Both programs are funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Cherokee Parents receives a grant through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The State program has a grant with the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Thilges has been with Cherokee Parents since it started five years ago. Cherokee Parents uses a home visiting model called SafeCare Augmented, which is also one of the three State-sponsored evidence-based home visiting models used in Oklahoma. She credits the State MIECHV program staff for reaching out and including Cherokee Parents in their activities. “They invited us to be part of their quarterly meetings and give input from where things stand at a Tribal level,” Thilges said.

This Tribal-State collaboration has bridged a significant gap in home visiting. Most Cherokee families live in off-reservation communities. “They could still receive services that the state was providing if they met qualifications," Thilges said. "But I don’t know that those state programs were really targeting the Cherokee families the way we’re able to do.”

Another example of Tribal-State collaboration is with SafeCare. “When we needed to have our parent educators trained, we brought someone in from the National Training Center in Georgia," Thilges said. "We also included Steve Ross, who provides training for the state-sponsored SafeCare program. This led to Steve providing SafeCare training for staff when we have turnover. This has helped us get our staff trained quicker. After I got certified as a coach in SafeCare, he invited me to their monthly coach meetings and staff trainings.”

Thilges is pleased with the progress that Cherokee Parents has made in engaging and strengthening families. In addition to weekly home visits, the program hosts a popular monthly gathering for the families they serve. One of these featured a presentation on Cherokee heirloom seeds.

“The speaker brought seeds with her, and we brought soil and cups," said Thilges. "The families planted the seeds to take home with them. When our home visitors go out to the homes, they see families taking care of these seeds and growing things. One mother’s whole back yard has been taken over by the gourds she planted. The parents took that from this little event we had, and now it’s part of what they’re doing at home.”


The Cherokee Parents Tribal Home Visiting Program is sponsored by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. For more information, contact Program Coordinator Amy Thilges at 918–453–5078 or, and visit Visit disclaimer page .

Lemonade for Life is a national training initiative for professionals working with parents and caregivers on use of the ACEs Questionnaire. The goal of the Lemonade for Life program is to help prevent future exposure to ACEs while promoting resiliency and hope. For more information, visit Visit disclaimer page .

More information about ACEs is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at Visit disclaimer page .

ACF’s Tribal MIECHV program provides grants to tribal entities to develop, implement, and evaluate home visiting programs in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities. The grants are intended to help develop and strengthen tribal capacity to support and promote the health and well-being of AIAN families, expand the evidence base around home visiting in tribal communities, and support and strengthen cooperation and linkages between programs that serve tribal children and their families. More information about the Tribal Home Visiting program and grantees, visit /ecd/home-visiting/tribal-home-visiting