We are excited to welcome Latresa Zak, MSW, to Sojourner House as our new Director of Clinical Services. Latresa has a deep passion for helping people in need. Through a conversation with Latresa, one is easily empowered by her words of compassion and moved by her work of assisting families in substance-use recovery.
From Real Estate to Social Work
Latresa worked in real estate prior to her study of and career in social work. An important reason inspired her career change. One of Latresa’s favorite uncles, the one who tied her hair up, watched cartoons with her, and walked her to school when she was little, was a drug user and later diagnosed with Schizophrenia. At the time, she didn’t know how to help him and could only look up services and answer his past-midnight calls trying to calm him. Latresa found that people don’t know how to deal with drugs and mental health, and most of the time, the treatments are in different locations and disjointed.
“Not everyone experiencing homelessness on the streets is without money or family. Some just don’t know how to live with the voices inside their head,” says Latresa. “That was my uncle, who tried to suppress those voices. He was a soul lost in the system without a proper facility to help with his drug use and mental health problems. That is when I knew I needed to delve into this. I wanted to help people like my uncle.”
Latresa went back to school and now holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work focused on community organizations and homeless housing. She gained direct care experience working as a caseworker at Pittsburgh Mercy and Allegheny County for Children, Youth, and Families (CYF). Getting involved in direct care means she has a more intimate connection with those struggling with trauma and substance abuse to understand their needs. Everyone has a different trigger influenced by everything around the diagnosis, so Latresa works closely with her clients and is immersed in the environment.
“No one is perfect. Everyone has some trauma in their life,” says Latresa. “Trauma shouldn’t be celebrated but should be dealt with, and my goal is to help people cope. When you cope, you start to heal.”
Providing A Space for Healing
Latresa has known about the work of Sojourner House for a long time. During her undergrad and grad school years, she often heard people talk about women in recovery and crossed paths with those served by Sojourner House. When she worked as an Allegheny County CYF caseworker, she visited Sojourner House to follow up with her cases and got to learn more about the organization’s services and mission.
Sojourner House is not just a place for women in recovery. It is a safe haven where mothers can be with their children, get temporary and stable housing, and receive treatment to help with recovery and mental health. It is a community. The ladies at Sojourner House help each other, just like family. The activities and treatments help women in recovery see the outside world and the things it offers, encouraging them to do something for themselves, and giving them the confidence that they are more than their addiction and diagnosis. The women in recovery are women with strength who can break the cycle of substance use and build a family with stability and love.
Latresa always asks her clients, “How can I help to make you succeed?” and “What do you need to feel ok for today?” She wants to help the women in recovery grow because they are more than what other people think. “People should be able to celebrate who they are,” says Latresa. “If getting out of bed before 9 AM is their happy space, then that is a success. I can give you a hand, but someday I want you to stand on your own.”
One of the misconceptions people have is that recovery treatments don’t work. Treatment doesn’t work unless the client is willing to do the work. One of Latresa’s current clients arrived feeling defeated and that no treatment center could help her. Latresa worked on building the client’s trust and took the time to provide the tools to help her help herself.
Latresa counseled the client, “I need you to participate because this is your life. This is the first time in many years you have had stable housing, a treatment team, a psychiatrist, a therapist ready to help, and you are with your children. You have to want to help yourself too.”
New Program Curriculum and Partnerships
Latresa is working closely with De’netta Benjamin-Miller on expanding program partnerships as part of her effort to create a new curriculum for program participants. An example of that is a new partnership with Carlow University’s Social Work Department and Psychology Programs. Students at Carlow can achieve service hours; our clients can meet new people, share their personal stories, and know there are people outside of Sojourner House who are cheering them on. The university also has access to the latest books and evidence-based treatment studies, benefiting Sojourner House’s curriculum.
Other partnerships with local agencies and organizations help our clients get out of the building, talk about trauma and different topics, and meet new groups and teachers. With the refreshed curriculum, the women in recovery can walk away with new knowledge and skills, and know that Sojourner House has their best interest at heart.
Women in recovery are someone’s daughter, mother, sister, or friend. They are far more than their addiction. Latresa is hopeful that they will recover and bless others with their recovery knowledge and experience. “Remember, they are human like you. They want what you want: stability, love, and kindness. They want you to see them, not their circumstance.”
Would you like to learn more about Sojourner House’s Services helping families in recovery? Check out our services page or RSVP for the upcoming free, virtual panel discussion, “Recovery from Substance Use: The Realities, The Hope, The Possibilities,” on September 23, 6:30 – 8 PM (EDT).