Fundraiser and celebration of families to be held, Aug. 16
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
By this time of the year, the Sojourner House usually would have already held its annual Victorian Tea, at, say, Pittsburgh’s Grand Hotel at the Priory on the North Side. More than 350 people would have come together to enjoy food, entertainment, tea and pastries, live auctions, and, overall, a celebration of all that is the Sojourner House.
But these aren’t usual times.
COVID-19 has forced those large, in-person events to be postponed, including the Victorian Tea, which was originally scheduled for April 19. And it’s unclear when everything will get back to normal.
For the Sojourner House, though, coronavirus hasn’t stopped the need for its services. The Sojourner House, based on Penn Avenue on the Garfield/East Liberty border, helps mothers recover from addiction, while keeping their children. The Sojourner House focuses on strengthening family relationships, promoting self-sufficiency, long-term sobriety, and mental health stability.
Generally, the organization can provide inpatient care for 14 women at a time experiencing active addiction. The women can bring up to two children under age 12 to reside with them in treatment. The treatment usually lasts from three to six months. Each family has their own apartment during the treatment program.
“During COVID-19, we did not stop admitting clients into care, because addiction did not stop during the pandemic,” Susan Orr, the Sojourner House’s director of development, told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Aug. 10. “Some of our clients stayed at our program longer than six months due to limited availability of housing options and them needing a place to live during the stay-at-home order.”
And Sojourner House MOMS (Motivation, Opportunities, Mentoring and Spirituality) provides longer-term housing for men and women with children who are experiencing chronic homelessness and have a mental health and/or substance use disorder. Currently, more than 40 families are housed in the MOMS program.
“We continued to open our doors to families in need during COVID-19,” Orr said. “Our housing programs are located in Homewood, East Hills and Highland Park. We provided masks, cleaning supplies and technology resources for our families during the crisis.”
Thus, as coronavirus didn’t stop the Sojourner House from providing its needed services, the staff made the decision to not let COVID stop the annual Victorian Tea entirely. It’s now a “virtual” event; the 16th annual Victorian Tea, this Sunday, Aug. 16, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. The Tea is an important fundraiser for the Sojourner House, a nonprofit that began in 1991, founded by 26 women from Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church. The Sojourner House is named after African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.
Registering for this year’s Tea is free, but registrants are encouraged to make a financial donation to the Sojourner House. Those who register by Wednesday, Aug. 12, will be in the running to win one of the nine Sojourner House’s popular tea baskets. Registration information and viewing of the Victorian Tea is available at www.sojournerhousepa.org. The video of the Tea will be made available on its website for anyone to view who misses the live presentation on Aug. 16.
The Pre-Teatime (12:30 to 1 p.m.) will feature a performance from Brazilian jazz vocalist Kenia Ashby, and photos of Sojourner House events from the past year.
From 1 to 2 p.m., Pittsburgh Black Media Federation President Brian Cook Sr. will host the Tea, which will include tours of the Sojourner House’s three program facilities, an awarding to Leah Lizarondo (CEO of 412 Food Rescue) as the honorary chair, and the Pearl of Hope Awardee given to Chatham University’s “Words Without Walls” creative writing program. The program will highlight the many success stories of the families in the organization’s programs, and the winners of the tea baskets will be announced.
There will also be commentary by the executive director of the Sojourner House, De’Netta Benjamin-Miller, who was named to the position in October 2019. Benjamin-Miller is a 1993 Schenley High School graduate, who later earned degrees at Central State University (Ohio) and the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. Benjamin-Miller is a licensed clinical social worker who practices as a therapist at the Sojourner House.
Both Benjamin-Miller and Orr told the Courier that the Sojourner House is a “critical” organization for women in recovery and their children. Orr said more than 1,000 women have been assisted by the organization over the past three decades.
“Over the years, our families and addictions have changed, but what hasn’t changed is the need for our services: Family-centered treatment helping not only the woman dealing with adverse outcomes of drug use, but with her family and their needs,” Orr told the Courier.
“Financial support often goes toward our families’ daily needs, such as cleaning supplies, food, linens and hygiene products,” Orr continued. “…While families are living with us, they have what might be the first stable living condition that they’ve ever had…our women often enter the program struggling, ashamed and not knowing how to properly parent their children. Upon graduation, they can be proud of their accomplishments, and are armed with new knowledge of how to function in society, and how to properly parent.”
(For more information on how to receive treatment from the Sojourner House, call 412-441-7783.)
SCHENLEY HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE DE’NETTA BENJAMIN-MILLER is the executive director of the Sojourner House.