Liz Wasel is Sojourner House’s Childcare Development Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator. When she came to the organization nearly 11 years ago, her first project was to bring structured programming like story and circle time to the children’s services. She soon added “Volunteer Coordinator” to her job duties. In these positions, she witnesses changes in people every day.
She marvels at the changes that she sees in families during their time in the program.
“Over 6 months, there is a huge change in the child’s growth, personality, cognitive abilities and even their size! But even more impressive is the change in their mothers. You see a mother leave after 6 months with self-esteem and pride.”
She not only sees changes in the families she works with, but also the volunteers.
“My volunteers become part of my family,” she says affectionately. Volunteers come to the doors of Sojourner House from many different places. “Some, like Miss Lu, have been volunteering here longer than most of the staff have worked here. Miss Maggie came to volunteer because one of her former students had lived here and she wanted to give back to an organization that helped her pupil,” Liz explains.
Even though not all volunteers are drawn to Sojourner House because of the mission, that is the reason they end up staying. Students from Pittsburgh-area colleges and universities come to Sojourner House looking to fulfill class requirements, but leave with an education about addiction and recovery that stays with them in their careers.
Liz recalls watching classes of nursing students listen to a woman’s story of addiction and recovery. By hearing it directly from the person, rather than simply the facts they read about in their textbooks and lectures, their eyes are opened to the reality and humanity of addiction.
She notes one student in particular who was changed by their volunteerism. “A male student named Alex came here because he had a requirement to fill for a class and didn’t know a lot about Sojourner House,” she remembers. Now, seven years later and busy with dental school, Alex will still call Liz when he has a few free hours to come back and volunteer.
Alex decided he wanted to go into dentistry in the eighth grade, so when one of his freshman classes at Pitt assigned students to volunteer, he chose Sojourner House. He wanted to expand his understanding of people and the diversity of backgrounds, because he knew this would be important to relating to and treating his future patients. “I came back after my course requirement was done because I became part of a family. Miss Liz has become my mother away from home.” Alex shares. Going into a career where pain management will be a large part of his work, the understanding of addiction he has gained at Sojourner House will definitely inform his work with his patients. “It’s my duty to inform patients to enable them to make a knowledgeable decision. I want them to know and really understand their pain management choices and have a mini-counseling session on the long-term impact of opiates.”
Along with the changes she has seen on the Sojourner House campus, Liz has also seen a change in the way the community views recovery. “More people are aware of addiction and not as judgmental. Addiction touches every family in some respect.” And the changes she sees in the volunteer students, especially those in the medical fields, will hopefully make a lasting impact on them and the lives of their future patients.