About the aTLC
A History of aTLC
Through the eyes and heart of John W. Travis, co-Founder and Chief Papa
The Birth of aTLC
While attending the founding meeting of the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS) in March of 1996, I met Suzanne Arms. At the meeting, 30 some representatives of natural birthing organizations teamed up to create a document outlining the ideal conditions for birth —The Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative.
It was in some ways due to Suzanne’s passion and inspiration at this meeting, along with Jim Prescott, who invited me and Jean Liedloff’s breakthrough continuum work, this Coalition meeting led to my switching careers from general wellness to infant wellness, the foundation where we can most effectively and reliably cultivate wellness.
One evening in a hot tub together, Suzanne and I mused,
“Wouldn’t it be great to bring together all the
individuals and organizations working to provide,
not only the optimal conditions for birth,
but also for raising children—from
pre-conception through adolescence.”
Thus was born the idea for aTLC, the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children.
Finding and Binding a Tribe
The internet was pretty new in those days, so I took on the task of getting the members to ratify the MFCI by email, and then created CIMS’ first website. Pleased with the response, I then started an online discussion group for the issues that aTLC would eventually address.
That same year, my wife, Meryn Callander, our 3-year-old daughter, and I moved from California to Nelson County, Virginia, near Charlottesville, which took most of my energy. Once settled, I focused again on the project, making it my topic for a 3-month seminar I did with Landmark Education: The Self-Expression and Leadership Program.
By spring of 1999, we held our founding meeting at the Acorn Inn in nearby Nellysford, VA. In attendance besides Meryn and me, were:
- Kent Peterson, who had participated in the same Self-Expression and Leadership Program with me;
- Ray Castellino, whom I had met at CIMS;
- Sharron Humenick, PhD, who I also met through a CIMS follow up meeting in Florida, and had recently moved to Virginia to chair the department of Maternal and Child Health at the School of Nursing, Virginia Commonwealth University;
- Pam Leo, a birth educator in Portland, Maine, who’s quote “Let’s raise children who don’t have to recover from their childhood” I’d seen on the cover of Empathic Parenting Magazine;
- Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, co-founders of Attachment Parenting International (API),
- Alison Visokay, founder of Childbirth WEB, and
- Steve Cochran, from Virginia Birthing Freedom.
As “bait” to attract more folks, I arranged for my neighbor and mentor, the late Joseph Chilton Pearce to join us for dinner and a discussion afterwards. Pam Leo later told me that’s why she came.
Organized Passion into Action
We quickly bonded over our passion for improving the attachment of American children. With Ray’s video projector on a laptop, we began creating a document similar to the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative, only covering a broader time-span from pre-conception through adolescence. Initially we called it the Acorn Accords, and it evolved several years later into the Proclamation and Blueprint for Optimal Development.
We decided to hold a second meeting in California to bring together more professionals with the same concerns. Suzanne arranged for us to use a large home in San Rafael, where we met in July of 1999. In attendance were Suzanne, Kent, Ray, and I, along with Tina Kimmel, who I’d also met at CIMS; Joyce Knott, a friend of Kent’s; Cathy Wills, a colleague from our Wellness Associates, passionate about natural birth; Bill and Win Sweet, authors of Living Joyfully with Children; and Marilyn Milos, founder of NOCIRC, who had recruited me to her cause a few years earlier.
This meeting solidified our 13 founding board of directors: Bill, Cathy, Jack (me), Joyce, Kent, Marilyn, Meryn, Pam, Ray, Sharron, Suzanne, Tina, and Win.
We met again at Marilyn’s home in Marin County the following year, where we put together more of what was to become the Proclamation and Blueprint, calling it the “Forest Knolls Scrolls.”
In July of 2001, we met in Boulder, CO, at the home of CIMS co-founder, Roberta Scaer. There we brought on Rick King, whom I’d met several years earlier in Boulder as our webmaster, since it had gotten too complex for my limited abilities.
For these first few years we continued to meet once or twice a year, both at Marilyn’s in California and Kent’s in Charlottesville and had monthly conference calls in which we hammered out the Proclamation and Blueprint. In 2001, we published it as a 10-page document—4 pages for the Proclamation (need) and 6 pages for the Blueprint itself, which I hammered out in PageMaker.
From Proclamation to Published
Shorty afterward, Sharron, who taught a research course in her Maternal Child Health Department at VCU, assigned students to research the various points in the Blueprint. After several rounds of the course, about half of the points were sufficiently documented to put links to the corresponding journal articles on our website. Sharron, who at the time was editor of The Journal of Perinatal Education, published the Blueprint and many of their research findings supporting it.
At that point I estimated 20 of us, plus the students, had spent over 10,000 hours on writing and documenting the Proclamation and Blueprint.
I worked nearly full-time as executive secretary and recruited nearly 100 small organizations and well-known experts in various related fields to become either an Affiliate or a Advisory Board member. We raised a modest amount of funds to keep going.
At at a meeting at Kent’s home in 2002, Suzanne came up with the idea of holding a Summit where we would invite experts from all the fields we represented to come together and see what happened.
We chose the retreat center of La Casa de Maria, Santa Barbara, CA, and brought about 100 people together March 27-30, 2003. Kent and Marti, president of Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, co-chaired the 3-day meeting. We recruited both Joe Pearce and Michel Odent, MD, as keynote speakers.
The entire event was video recorded and discs made available, along with a 60-page 3-ring binder notebook. David Isaacs introduced and facilitated the World Café model of intercommunication.
The interactions among professionals in disciplines that didn’t normally come together was encouraging so we planned a second summit for April 29-May 2 the following year at the Mt. Madonna retreat center in the hills of Santa Cruz, CA, where I had met Suzanne 8 years earlier. A larger crew of volunteers did most of the organizing under my and other board members’ direction.
Again, Joe Pearce keynoted, and people from as far as Australia attended. Suzanne and I co-chaired the but the numbers were smaller and the economics precluded scheduling a third Summit.
Instead, we focused on fundraising, hiring a professional fundraiser who stirred up a lot of interest, but ultimately failed to generate more than enough income to cover her fees.
Simultaneously, we applied for grants to fund what we called a “Warmline” to support parents struggling with the unrealistic demands of raising children in a nuclear family or less.
Meanwhile, Sharron had developed cancer and stepped down as president of our board. Meryn took on the role, coordinating much of the Warmline planning and grant applications.
In the fall of 2004, I recruited about a dozen counselor candidates, whom I brought together in two meetings in California to explore and co-create the program. Meanwhile, our efforts at getting grants were not succeeding, but we went ahead and created a website and offered phone sessions for a fee using 2 or 3 of the volunteers from our meetings. Uptake was poor and ultimately no grants were received, so we closed the program down.
In 2007, Suzanne suggested we boil the Blueprint down to a one-page document of 14 “Essential Truths,” which added to the website and printed several thousand copies that we distributed at conferences.
We longed for the funds to produce a coffee-table version of the Proclamation and Blueprint in lay language with beautiful photos, but that dream remains unfulfilled after several efforts to get it off the ground.
In 2010-11, the board and selected consultants undertook a revision of the Blueprint, which had held the test of time pretty well, but required some updating. Once complete, with no income or other projects, the organization remained quiescent, as it had been much of the time since 2005 when the grant applications failed.
Around 2005, Pam connected me with Phyllis Odiseos, in Connecticut, who had sponsored several of Pam’s parenting workshops. She was excited by our work and made a small donation, promising to put us, and Attachment Parenting International, in her will. I maintained phone contact with her for many years, following her move to a retirement home in Bend, Oregon.
Returning from a camping trip to the Pacific Northwest, I visited her in July 2013. She was warm and friendly, but I discovered she was now in a “memory unit,” and our conversation remained superficial, with no mention of previous commitment to aTLC.
Six months later, Kent, our treasurer, received a letter from her lawyers, indicating she had died and an undisclosed amount had been willed to us. Many months went by until we learned that $88,000 was promised, which arrived later that year. We now had the opportunity to revive aTLC.
Since 2004, when I published “Why Men Leave” in magazines both in Australia and the US, I had been speaking on the subject off and on. In 2006, Dean Edell, MD, suggested that I turn it into a book, which Meryn and I set about, and worked on for over 5 years, ultimately producing Why Dads Leave, under her authorship shortly after we separated in 2012.
My passion for ending the epidemic of disappearing dads, (that I later recognized as disappearing marriages), is based on my own experience. It began in 1974 with my first wife and daughter, who was 2 and a half when, after 2 years of intensive therapy, we separated. With Meryn, it was more insidious. I lasted 18 years after our daughter was born, but we began losing the emotional component of our relationship soon after she was born.
Seeing an opportunity to further this work, I recalled the skills of Jen Dudley Lionheart, who had attended the first Summit and volunteered to help organize the second Summit. We’d stayed in touch over the years and I knew she shared this passion—her own marriage having ended after the birth of her two sons.
I approached her with an offer to organize a project, which meshed with another similar project she’d helped launch, and amazingly, she was becoming free to devote time to such an undertaking.
Thus was born the Connected Couples—Thriving Families project of aTLC.
Simultaneously, Pam Leo, who had taken a 7-year sabbatical from aTLC work, was launching her “Book Fairy Pantry Project” to get donated children’s books via food pantries, into the hands of families who have none. She was about to launch her pilot program in her home state of Maine and aTLC was able to fund the startup costs.
After nearly a decade of dormancy, aTLC is back!
We have a reinstated board along with our network of Affiliates and Advisors.
aTLC is sponsoring a collection of Family Wellness Projects consistent with the Blueprint, Proclamation and Essential Truths. Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved and support all kinds of TLC for families.