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Families

back on track  

as seen by Carnegie Mellon students and former mom addicts


back on track  ... Our class, ‘Picturing Families at Soujourner House,’ started in January and ended today, on May 9, 2012. As the course title states, our subject was families, but these families differ from our own. Families at Sojourner House (SH) are headed by women who are recovering addicts. And even more dire, before they arrived at SH, these mothers were homeless. Although addiction exists across economic classes and favors all skin colors, few Carnegie Mellon students, if any, have a family history of homelessness. During the 14-week academic semester, Mia, Virgie, Veronica, and Nichelle —all former addicts and moms— welcomed seven Carnegie Mellon students into their homes. These women and their families were carefully selected by SH staff to work with us. We were assigned women who were stable and outstanding examples of how housing and other supportive services turn lives around, not only for the women but for their children, as well. In many cases, children of addicts or the homeless are in foster care, or if lucky, they are living with caring relatives. At SH, children are expected to stay with, or are reunited with their moms. Addicts, and those in recovery, more often than not, tend to their own needs before thinking of their children’s welfare. At SH, parenting skills are taught and reinforced, along with other life skills. As moms stabilize their lives, their children go to school, eat healthy meals, attend afterschool programs, and are cared for by their moms and SH staff. SH programs target breaking the intergenerational cycle of addiction and poverty. We started class in the middle of winter by exploring a small section of East Liberty where Sojourner House, an attractive multifamily apartment dwelling, is situated and where most of our moms live. With cameras and cold fingers, we walked streets that are typical of Pittsburgh’s working-class neighborhoods. Most of the homes, built in the first half of the twentieth century, show signs of wear and tear —and like Pittsburgh neighborhoods, homes are beautiful and well kept, while others sit abandoned. At this frigid time of year, we didn’t see much street life, but we imagined how during Pittsburgh’s steamy hot summers, kids would be teeming all over playing ball. We saw basketball hoops and deserted playgrounds waiting for spring. We were a small class —seven students, a TA, and a teacher. We quickly got to know each other by sharing reasons for taking this course, and looking at and critiquing our beginning photographs. For most of us, photographing ‘real life’ was new and intimidating —academic study at Carnegie Mellon is demanding and few students make time to venture outside the university culture. We prepped for meeting our moms by reading about addiction but learned much more when SH staff members Sharon Jones, Clinical Supervisor, and JoAnn English, Program Manager, came to class to tell us about their clients —the women and children who we would soon meet.


About a month into the semester after having talked enough, we were really ready, and really anxious, to meet our families. Finally, we got our family contact information. We called our moms and planned to meet. Much like ‘blind dates,’ nothing in our mind’s eye resembled Mia, Nichelle, Virgie, or Veronica —our moms. We had pictured stereotypes, and our moms were living, breathing individuals. Sharing experiences of our first encounters, we all laughed with relief. It’s not clear what we expected, but we were taken aback by how ‘normal’ our families were. Among our comments and observations… ‘Nichelle’s home is cleaner than mine; Mia has art on the walls and collects beautiful baskets; Virgie is dealing with her adolescent 14 year old daughter and their relationship reminds me how difficult I was with my mom at that age; Veronica’s kids, Ruby and Jared, were fighting over an oreo just like my brother and me…’ And with that first meeting, we ditched our preconceptions about addicts and entered our families lives. This book of photographs is made in an edition of two —one copy is for Sojourner House and the other is for The Fine Foundation. These photographs will be part of our larger project to be finished during the summer of 2012. The larger project will be a print-on-demand book of our experiences with our moms. It will include our reflections, relevant statistics about this population, our mom’s words, and photo-essays. We believe that stories about these women, who are ‘back on track’, can inform policy, give hope to others, and educate the general population about addiction and those who deal with significant adversity. We also believe that our course, ‘Picturing Families at Sojourner House,’ could be a model for how students can be a positive influence in communities that have limited resources, while at the same time broadening their own lifes by learning important lessons from people with experiences vastly different from their own. We are indebted to Sojourner House and The Fine Foundation for making this work possible. Our class:

Charlee Brodsky, teacher Emily Sappington, teaching assistant Lena Tesone Mimi Weber Jiwon Ha Laura Tjho Patrick Hogan Monica Tong Eunice Chung


Mia’s family  


“Mia and Johnica” Eunice Chung, April 2012


“Johnica and Mia” Patrick Hogan, March 2012


“Johnica” Patrick Hogan, March 2012


“Mia and her grand-daughter� Eunice Chung, April 2012


“Mia’s apartment” Eunice Chung, April 2012


“Mia’s home” Patrick Hogan, March 2012


Virgie’s family


“Virgie” Lena Tesone, February 2012


“Keiona” Lena Tesone, March 2012


“Keiona” Lena Tesone, March 2012


“Virgie and Keiona” Lena Tesone, April 2012


“Ray’maire and Jay’maire, Virgie’s grandchildren” Lena Tesone, April 2012


“Ray’maire and Jay’maire,Virgie’s grandchildren” Lena Tesone, April 2012


“Ray’maire and Jay’maire, Virgie’s grandchildren” Lena Tesone, April 2012


Veronica, Ruby  and  Jared


“Ruby, Jared, Veronica” Mimi Weber, April 2012


“Jared” Laura Tjho, April 2012


“Jared” Mimi Weber, February 2012


“Ruby” Mimi Weber, February 2012


“Ruby, Jared, Veronica” Laura Tjho, April 2012


“Ruby” Mimi Weber, April 2012


“Ruby in her room” Laura Tjho, April 2012


Nichelle and Jared


“Nichelle and Jayden” Monica Tong, February 2012


“Mommy loves you, Jayden” April, 2012


“Jayden” Jiwon Ha, March 2012


“Nichelle’s living room” Monica Tong, March 2012


Jiwon Ha, February 2012


the neighborhood  


Eunice Chung, February 2012


Jiwon Ha, February 2012


Eunice Chung, February 2012


Laura Tjho, February 2012


Eunice Chung, February 2012


Laura Tjho, February 2012


Jiwon Ha, February 2012


Patrick Hogan, February 2012


Patrick Hogan, February 2012


Jiwon Ha, February 2012



Willing to Change...