Sojourner Houses’ aid reaches more with new buildings

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Shelley Mitchell had struggled with drug addiction for many years. She tried numerous treatment programs and facilities, but was never quite successful at kicking the habit for long. But it was a feeling of desperation, and a search through the phonebook in 2008 that led her to Sojourner House, the place that brought her one step closer to the road of a successful recovery.

After being introduced to Sojourner House, the treatment facility whose mission is to offer compassionate, faith-based recovery services to mothers and their children, and going through their program, Mitchell, a mother of two, finally found herself equipped with the steps to a successful recovery and was off drugs for several years.

Mitchell, 49, who said she ran back to the program after a brief relapse with alcohol last year, is now sober and closer to celebrating her one-year anniversary of being sober on Dec. 17. “They had the individualized care I needed, I didn’t get that from other places. And it helped that the people there were just like me. These people knew how I felt,” she said. “They helped me grow into a woman. I was like a 14-year-old when I started; they molded me into a woman. Now I’m stronger, more independent and I exercise my faith in God.”

Since 1994 Sojourner House has been giving women and their families the tools needed to live and lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Now, with the recent purchase of the former Open Arms building on Frankstown Avenue and the Sankofa building on Kelly Street—both in Homewood–the Sojourner House MOMS (Mentoring, Opportunity, Motivation, Spirituality) program will now be able to assist even more families.

“We’re excited about it. We all love and appreciate the old traditional neighborhood of Homewood and have started networking with many of the groups there,” said Joann Cyganovich, Sojourner House executive director.

Cyganovich said she hopes the buildings, which will be renovated through money Sojourner House has raised and with grants from the Heinz Endowments, the Eden Hall Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, will be ready by June 2014. She plans to host a community-wide open house after the renovation is completed.

“My hope is that the women can be fully integrated into the healthy community and be a part of the Homewood neighborhood and part of that rebuilding process,” said Cyganovich. “(And) that they can really be part of that thread the fabric that is helping Homewood to provide more opportunities for youth and adults. It’s almost a synergy of them rebuilding their lives as the Homewood neighborhood is being rebuilt.”

Sojourner House began its state licensed drug and alcohol rehab facility in 1994. Then in 2000, through a partnership with Negley Place Neighborhood Alliance and the notice of a need for more affordable housing, Sojourner House MOMS took over four blighted buildings and turned them into affordable, supportive housing for families. Through its Sojourner MOMS program, mothers and their children who have gone through treatment and are in the early stages of their recovery are given a place to stay while they begin the rebuilding process and “get on their feet.”

With the acquisition of its new buildings, Sojourner House, along with Sojourner MOMS, went from having a capacity to serve 35 families to 56.

Mitchell said acquiring the new buildings “is a blessing for women. It’s rare to find a place where you can take your child. A lot of people want their children. No matter what, I never wanted to lose mine.” When Mitchell entered the Sojourner House programs she did so with only her son, who was 7 years old; her daughter, who was in her twenties, lived with her father.

When asked why they feel it’s critical to keep families together during the treatment process, Cyganovich said, “When there is an issue such as the disease of addiction, it impacts the whole family. So when the whole family can be involved in the treatment process, it’s so much more effective. All the children in our program also get individual support and whatever they need to help them recover.”

Mitchell said she realized that with her addiction her children were impacted the most, especially her daughter. Although she only had her son with her, she said “having your children with you gives you a sense of security. You go through it (addiction) as a family and it (the treatment) should be done as a family. You both need to heal together.”

(For more information on Sojourner House and its services, call 412-441-7783 or visit http://www.sojournerhousepa.org.)

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