‘We build families here’
Sheila Hall’s amazing journey from addiction and homelessness to RHD program director with a Master’s Degree and a career helping others began at RHD Family House in Norristown.
Family House is a unique and innovative program that works with mothers and children together in a residential treatment setting – one of only a handful of its kind in the country. RHD has founded and supports two Family House residential facilities, one in Norristown, Pa., and one in Philadelphia. Since 1982, Family House in Norristown has operated as a long-term residential treatment facility for chemically-dependent women and their children. Family House is one of only a handful of programs in the country that work with mother and child together in a residential treatment setting, addressing addiction as well as parenting skills.
After Sheila graduated from Family House, the program hired her to work there, first part-time and then full-time as an office manager. Sheila quickly showed a talent for working with women in the grip of desperation and addiction, some who’d lost lost custody of their children or other who were on track to. She says that’s because in those women she saw herself, not so long ago.
“This place changed my life,’’ Sheila said. “For more than 20 years, I struggled with addiction, depression, low self-esteem … I had my first drink at the age of eight. By the time I was 18, I was full-fledged junkie and alcoholic. I wasn’t a good mother, a good daughter, even a good friend. At that point I didn’t care for anyone else, or even myself. After going in and out of different programs, I came to RHD in a place called Family House. They gave me more hope than at any time in my life. They gave me my life back.
“They had a different take on recovery, They taught me to love me. They valued the person that I was. They never called me a junkie, never called me no-good, or an unfit mother.
“They just called me Sheila.”
After working at Family House Norristown, Sheila went back to school (“After 35 years!” she said), and earned her certificate in drug & alcohol counseling, then an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree. In 2016, she graduated with a Master’s degree in administration.
When RHD launched a new program called United Peers, Sheila was tabbed to run it. As a program director, Sheila supports people in recovery from mental health challenges in a community inclusion program staffed by Certified Peer Specialists. United Peers uses Certified Peer Specialists to assist persons in recovery as they work to live as independently as possible, demonstrating and modeling recovery through education and their own lived experiences.
“If there’s any way possible for me to give people the hope that was given to me, I would do everything in my power to do that,” Sheila said. “Your life can change. I want to live to help people. I have purpose in my life.
“Everything that I’ve been through, I use, and I do use today in my job at United Peers.”
In her work at United Peers, Sheila was chosen to be part of a pilot program at WHYY, called the OC87 Recovery Diaries series. The series features stories of mental health recovery created by and for people who are still on their journeys. When they were accepted into the program at WHYY, Sheila and and a United Peers client named Brenda learned filmmaking and editing so they could tell their story themselves.
RHD’s United Peers shares journey of recovery in WHYY documentary featuring United Peers client and certified peer specialist Brenda and United Peers director Sheila Hall-Prioleau.
“One of my favorite words is hope,” Sheila said. “I came to Family House very hopeless. Now I believe there’s nothing I can’t do. When I came to RHD, the curb was too high to reach. Now the sky is the limit for me.
“I’m so grateful to be a mother – and a good mother. My goal is to be the best mother I can be. I want to be with my children. We’re a family now. We always say at Family House, in order to save the whole family, you’ve got to heal the whole family. That’s what makes Family House so amazing – we build families, here.’’