MESA, AZ — A new program focused on supporting families in crisis is also offering opportunities for parents in recovery the chance to regain custody from the Arizona Department of Child Safety and an opportunity to start a career helping others in similar situations.
Dori DiPietro, the faculty director of Mesa Community College's social work program, said the program brings together families who've been reunited with their children to serve as mentors to those new to the program.
"They have successfully overcome their drug addiction and successfully reunited with their children. Because of that, they want to give back to other parents as a peer-parent support mentor to help parents in similar situations," DiPietro said.
It's known as the "Parent Peer Support Social Work Scholarship Stipend Program" and is a partnership between Mesa Community College and the Family Involvement Center.
Those accepted into the program are provided a computer to take a year of live and online social work courses, plus a monthly stipend to cover the costs of internet service and other living expenses.
"We need amazing things to happen with people who are struggling with mental health and addiction who are parenting their children. We need good people out there because people don't heal alone. They heal and they change through relationships with other people," DiPietro said.
Monika Gillchrist recently completed her first year in the program.
As a single mother with three children, she acts as an ally to other parents in the program. The hope is that their shared experiences — the hard knocks of life — with be relatable to those battling their own additions and recovery.
"It's a lot easier to be truthful to someone who knows what you're going through than it is to talk with a social worker — someone that you don't know has been through it — because you don't know how truthful you can be to them," Gillchrist said.
"I'm living to break the cycle. That is my biggest work," she said. "If I'm here for a year, two years, with schooling and everything, that is what I want to do. That is my passion. I definitely want to help women like myself, whether it's in rehab or social service work, I definitely want to make an impact there."
Gillchrist knows what rock bottom feels like because she's been there. She said she fought addiction for several years, spent time in and out of jail, and was charged with abandonment, resulting in her losing custody of her children.
Through faith, healing, and rehab, she fought back, worked hard, and regained full custody of her three children, aged 3, 4, and 10.
"I prayed. I called my support, I called my sponsor," she said. "I have a beautiful relationship with my children now. And I did that. I look at them. And I did that. I have all three of my children with me. And I want someone else to experience that".
She hopes others will be able to see the success and hard work and, maybe, become inspired to find their own success.
"It's all work. And when you have someone there that's been through who can encourage you. You'll get through it. You definitely will," she said.
For more information on the program, visit mesacc.edu\social-work.