New Board Member’s Work is A Family Affair

Oct. 25, 2019

New Sojourner House board member Ron Szwarc has wasted no time introducing himself to the Sojourner House community. This fall, Ron has spoken with the staff and Sojourner House mothers, not about his board work, but about his years in recovery.

In 1981, Ron’s drinking led him to his first stint in rehab while in the Air Force. “I did everything on my own. Ego led me to believe you can do this on your own,” he said. He was dry for 15 years, but the stress of an international deployment in Malaysia found him back in rehab.

After 20 years trying to do it on his own, Ron gave up and made a commitment, “I’m going to do everything AA says.” With decades of experience, Ron now dedicates his time sharing his experiences with others in recovery. 

As one of two keynote speakers at an Oct.12 retreat for Sojourner House moms at Shadyside Presbytrian Church (See retreat information below), Ron said, “It’s not just about abstinence, it has to be a change in your mindset. After being in rehab for the first time, I was dry, but I was not recovering from addiction.” He continued his lessons, telling them, “Don’t listen to your brain, it’s not healthy and not healed yet.”

Keynote speaker Ron Szwarc offering first-hand suggestions on being in long-term recovery
Keynote speakers and long-time friends Ron Szwarc and Patty Jasko

Ron says the most common trait he has seen in people doing well in recovery is approaching everything in life with a positive attitude, through a positive lens.  “A positive attitude is a must. Replace negative thoughts, feelings and actions with positive.”

He distributed a list of 88 negative emotions that he has compiled, to guests at the retreat. “These make up the prison bars of our mind. We have the power to respond positively.” 

Ron also volunteers at Gateway Rehab, sitting in with addicts and counselors in counseling sessions, lending his experience to the meetings. He is also an instructor at the Foundation of HOPE program at the Allegheny County Jail  and has been an AA sponsor for about 20 people. 

After his wife Jackie, a former Sojourner House board member, passed away, Ron felt he should do more. 

Ron and Jackie first met her when she was on a date with his roommate, but he knew in that moment he was going to marry her. Years later, Jackie attended a party where another guest lightheartedly challenged her to call someone from her past. She picked Ron, who will always be grateful to the telephone information dispatcher who figured out his often difficult-to-spell last name and reconnected them. That led to 23 years together, including the time before Ron was in recovery. 

Ron hopes to add to the work his late wife was doing while bringing his work and personal experience to the board.

He is very excited by his relationship with Sojourner House so far. “It’s an incredibly well-run organization with incredibly smart and capable people.”

Annual Shadyside Presbyterian Church Retreat: More than a dozen Sojourner House and Sojourner House MOMS mothers, along with their children, participated in an annual retreat that long-time supporter, Shadyside Presbyterian Church, has hosted for our families for many years.  This year’s theme was “coping.”  

A departure from previous retreats, when there usually was one speaker often speaking from a clinical perspective, this year featured two keynote speakers who are in long-term recovery, followed by a panel discussion which included women who have different perspectives of addiction. The morning started with a breakfast for the families. When the children went with church volunteers to a daycare room for the rest of the morning, the women started the retreat portion with a 20-minute yoga session presented by church member, Caroline Sterling. The retreat concluded with a healthy lunch for the families and volunteers.

“I have been involved with Sojourner House for many years and at different levels, but this retreat is one of the highlights,” said Sojourner House board member and Shadyside Presbyterian member/Sojourner liaison, Lisa Iadicicco. “We all struggle with something. Hearing the guidance and hope that is imparted during the retreat is a gift for the Sojourner women and for the Shadyside Presbyterian Church volunteers.”

Panel discussion moderator Susan Orr interviewing panelists Sheryl St. Germain, Nishauna Ball and Shayne C.
Shadyside Presbyterian volunteers who helped oversee retreat activities
Keynote speaker Patty Jasko sharing her story
Sojourner House staff on hand at the retreat