After nearly 12 years as the Executive Director of Sojourner House, Joann Cyganovich is retiring and moving onto the next adventure. But during her time with the organization, she has helped to usher in some dramatic changes and major steps forward for the organization and their goals of helping mothers struggling with addiction to get the help that they need without having to worry about losing their kids.
All of this experience has given tremendous perspective to Cyganovich, and we asked her to share some words of wisdom, both from her time at Sojourner House, and looking forward to the future of the organization.
What makes our organization so important both today and for the future of our city and region?
“There is no such thing as recovery housing or halfway housing for families…they don’t exist, there is no funding for them in Pennsylvania. Trying to give people a foot up is all we need to do. What really makes us unique is that the mothers can keep the kids with them and they get their own apartments. More men get treatment than women because women are terrified to lose their kids if they seek treatment. At Sojourner House, mothers don’t have to worry about losing their kids if they seek help for alcohol of drug addiction. This continues to be an important issue in our region.”
Looking forward to the future, what are the biggest challenges facing Sojourner House?
“The biggest challenge is, was and continues to be safe sober housing for women and their children when they come out of treatment. That’s why we designed the supportive-housing program, SoHo MOMS. HUD has changed their regulations so they no longer accept people coming out of a treatment facility if they’ve been there 90 days or more, or coming out of jail, and they have a centralized intake. These regulations don’t fit our regulation anymore. Our objective over the next few years is to find alternative funding. We’ve done that with 1 program that we opened last summer and we are continuing to work on recover-based housing and halfway housing. Our big goal is to take the remaining HUD contracts and give them back to HUD and do something that we were designed to do.”
What are you the most proud of, from your tenure with Sojourner House?
“When I started here 12 years ago, we had 2 buildings, and now we have 7. We had the capacity to serve 20 families, and now we serve 52. We worked really hard and we have a wonderful housing program in East Liberty and also in Homewood.
“One of the most fun projects was converting two city lots into a natural play yard. We did a lot of exploration into making a playground, and we convinced the city to sell us the lots and we had a tremendous amount of volunteers to help us clean it up. It’s made from MOMS (Mentoring Opportunity Motivation and Spirituality) Green recycled materials and simulates learning environments. It was really rewarding because there were so many volunteers who contributed.”
What messages or words of wisdom do you have for the team, and for your successor?
“Sojourner House has a great reputation, and that is because of the team and the board, and they do a great job leading and providing oversight. I think that what has made SoHo have the reputation it has is that every one of us is linked as a team. I’m going to miss that and I’m going to miss everybody. But they’ve got it, and they’re going to continue doing their thing and it’s going to continue being a stellar organization.
“If we really want to serve addicted mothers and their children, we have got to be involved with our elected officials and be aware of what’s coming down so that as providers and people serving at the board level or even receiving the services, we need to advocate and we need to educate.”