We have good and bad news to share. Sojourner House’s Program Manager Dolores Mitchell, lovingly known as Ms. D, is retiring this month!
With 22 years of service at Sojourner House, Dolores is someone we run to when we have a problem knowing she’s always happy to help. To celebrate her retirement, we chatted with Dolores to learn about her experiences and hear her advice.
A Golden Heart for Human Services
Dolores enjoys working with people and encouraging them to reach their potential. Before Sojourner House, Dolores worked with the Girl Scouts of the USA for many years. During her time with the Girl Scouts, she started a program to reach underserved girls and recruited leaders and troops. The moms of her scouts would volunteer to help, and a couple of the moms were dealing with substance use issues. When they didn’t show up, Dolores knew why.
When Dolores relocated to Maryland, she tried applying to human services jobs, but the field was tough to break into. Little did she know, when she moved back to Pittsburgh years later, a conversation with her church elder would open doors to the field of human services at Sojourner House. In 1997, she started working at Sojourner House as a part-time program aide (title changed to recovery support specialist in 2019) while also working a full-time job.
An Open Door at Sojourner House
The Sojourner House facility is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, so someone needs to be on-site at all times. In the beginning, Dolores worked two shifts a week, an overnight shift and a 7-hour afternoon shift. She had many interactions with the residents and saw firsthand how they heal through the program.
Over time, Dolores picked up more facility and operation responsibilities, eventually becoming our program manager. Today, she supervises the recovery support specialists and helps them succeed at work. Additionally, she takes care of the facility, from building compliance and maintenance calls to staff training.
With up to 14 families supported by Sojourner House’s in-patient residential treatment at any given time, everyone has different needs that Dolores makes sure are met. It is important for her to provide a safe space to the families at Sojourner House. As a firm believer in “If it is not good enough for me, it is not good enough for you.” Her number one rule is to make people feel comfortable and supported.
Be Ready for the Change
At Sojourner House, Dolores opened her heart and made herself available to help the families she cares for. Before the mother in recovery and their families came to Sojourner House, no one gave them a chance, no one encouraged them to do something different with their life, and some of them lost their children to the system.
“It could be any one of us in the same situation,” said Dolores. “People experiment when they are young, and sometimes they get stuck.”
When Dolores first started working at Sojourner House, the most common addiction she saw people stuck with was cocaine. Now it is opioids and even marijuana. No matter the substance, people can’t move past it when they need drugs to get through the day and are chasing that illusive high.
Some people have been hurt so badly that they turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the trauma. Sojourner House helps our residents learn the tools to recover, rebuild relationships with their children, and lets them know people care about them and their welfare.
Dolores believes in the special connection between a mother and her children. As a safe space for families to reconnect, Sojourner House gives children the freedom to be children and not worry about taking care of their siblings or their mom. Dolores and the recovery support specialists help mothers become caretakers again and support them in bringing the family back together.
Dolores says one of the most fulfilling things is to see how the mothers in our program transform into their best selves. She sees them completing the program, staying clean and sober, and turning their lives around. “To see how well they are doing afterward, how their kids grow up, get their lives back on track, and never look back,” said Dolores. “Those are the memorable moments that I live for. That is what’s important.”
Her Advice for People Entering the Human Services Field
Dolores believes that everyone should put themselves in the shoes of the person they cared for and walk a mile before making any judgments. There are several reasons why that person is struggling with substance use disorder. They may be educated, have a career, be rich or poor, or experience homelessness; there is no one size that fits all. Addiction is addiction.
Be open, and don’t have preconceived notions. “Sometimes you feel like you know what’s best for them, but you really don’t,” said Dolores. “You know the books, but you don’t know what people have been through. Listen, watch, and hear how you can help them.”
Dolores’s prayer to the Lord is, “Help me see people the way you see them.” She doesn’t make judgments and serves with an open mind.
“We don’t have all the answers. The clients have the answers.” To truly help someone in need, believe them, encourage them, and tell them their addiction does not define them.
Plans for Retirement
Dolores is looking forward to her retirement. She’ll relax and do things that she needs to do for herself. “Then I’ll just see what the Lord has for me to do next,” said Dolores. “I know I am going to do something and not just sit at home. I’ll be open.”
“We may sow just a small seed, but sow a seed, and it may grow and flourish into something beautiful,” said Dolores. “I see the mothers and children and how Sojourner House changes their lives. It’s a wonderful experience.”
Ms. D, thank you for everything you have done to support mothers in recovery and their families! You are a true inspiration to us all at Sojourner House.