Our staff are full of amazing talent and skill and we want to share their stories with you. And no better person to start with than our new Executive Director, De’netta Benjamin-Miller.
De’netta Benjamin-Miller, Executive Director
What interested you about this position?
The leadership position interests me because it was aligned with my passions. I’m a licensed clinical social worker. I still practice as a therapist outside the Sojourner House. I’ve been doing this for 18 years. I have a passion and interest in dual diagnosis, but particularly helping individuals heal from trauma. The agency’s vision and mission is very attractive. I like the fact that it’s a small hard-working organization, which gives me the opportunity to really get to know all the staff members and build strong relationships.
How did you first learn about Sojourner House?
Well, I’ve known about Sojourner House for close to 20 years since I’ve been working in this field for about 18 years. I would refer clients that were in need of substance abuse inpatient treatment and women who have children to Sojourner House. Prior to my role here, I was Director of Behavioral Health for Familylinks. They also have an inpatient non-hospital treatment program for women who could bring their children. We would work together and share referrals. Then, two years ago, Familylinks, Sojourner House and POWER formed the PA Treatment Alliance.
About your role
What is your typical day like?
I’m very hands-on. My typical day starts by looking at my emails, because you never know when you get an email from the county or a funder, or a regulatory body with news or a change to implement. There have been a number of regulatory changes recently.
I’m also taking time at the beginning of my tenure to analyze our program structure. I’ve been looking at the history of the programs and their funding sources. My goal is to present my analysis to the board in January 2020.
Along with these initial priorities, I am getting to know the staff. Kholsen Hightower, our HR Director, and I are meeting with each and every staff member individually. We’re going over their job description, discussing any possible changes in the program, and giving them a chance to tell me what their expectations are of me.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
Challenges include recent changes with regulatory bodies and funding. I’ve spent a lot of the two weeks dealing with a change from Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They want stronger documentation for chronic homelessness. Adjusting to the new standards will be a learning curve for everybody. Another big change is the news that the county is moving to a Request for Proposal (RFP) process for funding particular services for drug and alcohol intervention. Those are probably the two biggest challenges that I’ve encountered.
What are you proudest of at Sojourner House?
I’m really proud of the staff. It takes a special staff to keep the organization moving forward while also engaging clients, especially clients experiencing trauma. Whether it’s in our inpatient program or our housing program, most of our consumers experience some type of trauma and our staff members do a great job providing compassionate care and working tirelessly to be able to help consumers. You have to be passionate in order to really sustain longevity in this field, and we have some employees who have been here for more than a decade. They’re committed and I’m proud of the commitment.
How would those closest to you describe you?
Caring. I’m sometimes told I care too much. Also, observant. Sometimes I get quiet and I become an introvert, but that means I’m observing.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to go see jazz. I’m a jazz person. I love jazz. I think that’s one of the great things about Pittsburgh is that you have some great jazz artists that are nationally known that we get to see for sometimes for $5.
What would you do (for a career) if you weren’t doing this?
I would probably just focus on my private practice, but if I had to say something else out of the field, I would be a teacher.
What is your motto or personal mantra?
I have a couple. One that I tell everybody, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you’re about to be mentally hijacked, “Retreat. Rethink. Then respond.”
Another is about spiritual faith. “Faith does not make things easy. It makes things possible.”
What is on your bucket list?
I really want to travel to Ghana in West Africa. I’m hoping to do it in the next three years or so. Also, I love Jamaica. I go to Jamaica once a year, but my goal is to probably go twice a year. Something happens when I get to Jamaica. I don’t know what it is. I just automatically start to feel relaxed. I just love it. It’s my favorite place and that’s on my bucket list — to get to that point where I can go twice a year.
What is the one thing you can’t live without?
I wish my husband could answer, he would probably say him. But I have to say my family. Also, I love clothes!
What is something people don’t know about you?
I’m an artist. I’ve done African dance for 20 years. That’s something that a lot of people don’t know just by looking at me, unless they’ve seen me dance before. I went to a Performing Arts Middle School. I started out in ballet, and then I transitioned to African dance one day. I went to a class when I was 12 and a woman told me I never had to pay again and I became her protégé. She taught me and then I started teaching at the Kingsley Center and at the dance school of Oakland. I was a dancer with the Legacy Arts Project.