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My FrontLine Story: Patrisha Williams, MBA

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Patrisha Williams is kind, energetic, and intensely passionate about her role as the Director of Talent Management at Gaudenzia. Her time with the organization began with what she thought would be a temporary role in the accounting department while she attended nursing school at night. But this October, she will be celebrating her 20-year career with Gaudenzia.

Long before she joined the team, however, Gaudenzia played an integral role in her life. When Patrisha was six years old, she joined her mother, aunt, siblings, and cousin in Gaudenzia’s Philadelphia-based New Image treatment program for pregnant women and women with children. While the adults received treatment for their substance use disorders, Patrisha watched her family heal. Years later, despite her lifelong goal of becoming an obstetrician, Patrisha unexpectedly found a home at Gaudenzia for a second time in a new role as part of our Finance Team. Here’s how she describes the shift in her career path:

“I always wanted to give back to the organization that gave my family purpose and a new beginning in life that had impact on many generations within my bloodline. I realized I was helping people, even within our accounting department. While I was not delivering babies, I was delivering a service to our employees, vendors, and stakeholders that affords us the ability to provide quality services to our clients. My career here at Gaudenzia brings me great gratitude and fulfillment. I love my job because I’m in a great position to cultivate a productive and empowering workforce that exhibits compassion and meets people exactly where they are.”

Anything I Could to Help

As a kid, I was mature, intuitive, humble, and driven. I am the oldest of four, and the daughter of a strong woman who was impacted by substance use disorder. My mother suffered for far too long. As a kid, I often did little things I knew would put a smile on her face. I would clean the house, cook dinner for my siblings, help them with their homework — anything that would lighten my mother’s load. To see my mother smiling made me happy.

I’ve always known my purpose in life was to help people in any capacity I could. My siblings would often get hurt while playing (especially my brothers). My tried and trusted treatment plan was simple and included rubbing alcohol, peroxide, water, ginger ale, band aids, and/or rest. No matter how major or minor the incident or illness, my treatment plan always seemed to work (perhaps my siblings just made me believe they felt better). From those moments on, I knew I wanted to work in the medical field, as my purpose was to serve and make others feel better. To be more specific, when I was young, I wanted to be an obstetrician and deliver babies.

Before I Was Ever Born

Growing up in poverty during the crack epidemic, I became aware of the impact of substance use and its effect on people very early on. At the tender age of ten, I remember being fully aware of our family’s economic and environmental circumstances. The odds were stacked against me, my siblings, and my family before I was ever born. My family was impacted by substances as young teenagers, and our neighborhood playgrounds were full of syringes, alcohol bottles, sex workers, violence, and drug dealers. My mother tried her best to bring a sense of normalcy into our lives, but no matter which playground, relative or friend’s house we visited, the neighborhoods all appeared to be infested with substances.

Drugs and alcohol disrupted my family dynamics and the stability of my household. Drugs stole a portion of my childhood from me and my siblings. They consumed my entire family’s life. My great grandmother, grandmother, mother, aunts, and uncle were each impacted by drugs and alcohol. There were many hungry, cold, and sleepless nights, as fulfilling their desire to get high was the priority for my family back in the 80s. Eventually, they grew tired of using, but they didn’t know where to start, or where to go, or what options they had.

Three Generations

My mother wanted to live a more productive life. She felt hopeless, yet knew she wanted better. She was only 21 at the time, and the only person she thought could help provide the necessary resources was the mayor. My mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, siblings, and cousin walked over six miles from the public housing projects in Germantown to Center City in Philadelphia to plead for help. They refused to leave without speaking to someone. When the mayor saw three generations of our family — young adults with their mother and children, all desperate and exhausted — walk through City Hall demanding help, he understood that my family needed support. The mayor was able to connect my family with Gaudenzia.

My grandmother and uncle were admitted into Gaudenzia’s West Chester House, and my mother and aunt, along with my siblings, cousin, and I, were admitted into one of Gaudenzia’s women and children’s programs called New Image. Knowing I come from a strong-willed, resilient family that hit rock bottom and fought their way to sobriety makes me feel that no matter what barriers I encounter in life, I am a fighter and can overcome any obstacles I may face.

With Her Children by Her Side

Many years ago, one of the barriers for addicted women with children was finding a program that would accept them with their children. My mother realized this when we were at rock bottom,but she knew if she continued using, child welfare services would be knocking on our doors, and she would eventually lose her children to the system. She realized her drug addiction was a complex disease, and while she had great intentions to stop using, she knew she needed help to recover. She was determined to do right with her children by her side. She was not losing us to the system.

I don’t remember much about the treatment process itself, but I do remember living in Gaudenzia’s New Image program with my mother, aunt, siblings, and cousin. New Image was Gaudenzia’s second program for women and children, which opened back in 1989 in a shelter located in Philadelphia, PA. The program was structured and family oriented. I remember seeing my mother participate in daily sessions — individual, group, and family sessions. The entire family, including the children, received treatment services.

I remember sliding through the halls in my pajamas, playing in the playground behind the facility, family field trips, talking with counselors, and participating in the Gaudenzia Ball with my mother. What I remember most was seeing my mother in a different light. She was learning, growing, and becoming a productive member in her community. I cherish those memories.

Such a Great Feeling

My family members were in the New Image program for 1 year, 6 months, and 7 days before they transitioned to an outpatient program in Philadelphia. We entered New Image broken and left healed. My mother built lifelong friendships with some of the women from the program. Gaudenzia connected us to transitional housing services, and for the first time, we had our own 3-bedroom house. I couldn’t believe it. We had a porch, and a backyard. This was such a great feeling as a kid.

Adjusting to our new life was challenging, too. My mother had to maintain her recovery, and not let her environment create a setback. Drugs were still prevalent, even in our new neighborhood. I remember walking to NA meetings several times a week with my mother, aunt, and siblings. My family stayed connected with others in recovery to stay on the right path. At NA meetings, I remember my mother sharing her testimony and being honest when she struggled. I remember the acceptance, and the encouragement to “keep coming back.” I thought these meetings were so powerful, and one of the main reasons my mother was able to remain clean and sober for decades.

Career: Love at First Sight

My journey back to Gaudenzia was always destined. I had a relative in the Accounts Payable Department in 2003 with an employee going out on a medical leave of absence. The former leader was seeking a temporary accounting clerk to assist for a three-month assignment during this time. I was attending nursing school on a part-time basis at Harcum College, and the commute was perfect, so I applied for the opportunity to help me pay tuition. I excelled in the role and grew even closer to Gaudenzia’s mission. That’s when I realized I could help the organization and others in a big way — like Gaudenzia helped my family.

The employee I was filling in for was unable to return to work, and my temporary assignment turned into a permanent position. After working in accounting for two years, I realized numbers just weren’t my thing, but I always had such great admiration for the work and the folks in the Human Resources Department. I visited the department frequently to learn more about what HR was all about, and it was career love at first sight! I envisioned myself providing quality services to our workforce. I knew our employees out in the field had very tough jobs, serving the most vulnerable populations. I wanted to support them and alleviate any stress that they would encounter within my realm of responsibility. I was hungry to learn what I needed to be successful in the Human Resources Department. I changed my major and pursued a degree in Human Resources Management, eventually receiving my undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration with a concentration in Human Resources Management and earning Summa Cum Laude!

When an opportunity became available in the HR Department, I immediately applied. I was interviewed and graciously accepted the position as a Benefits Specialist. I’ve worked in many different roles within the HR Department, including Benefits Specialist, Human Resources Generalist, Human Resource Manager, Senior Talent Manager, and currently, Director of Talent Management. I never dreamed that a temporary three-month assignment would blossom into a 20-year (and counting) career with Gaudenzia. Today, my aspirations are to continue evolving as a leader, upholding Gaudenzia’s mission and leading a high performing, successful team!

The Woman I Am Today

I come from a line of hard-working, steadfast, determined, educated, successful and professional individuals who have molded me into the woman I am today. My mother, aunt, and uncle have each earned their master’s degrees and career-specific certifications. They are career-driven professionals giving back to the industry and their communities.

My mother has worked in the behavioral health field for almost 30 years. I am so proud of her. My aunt received her graduate degree in human resource management and now also works for a nonprofit organization, while my uncle received a graduate degree in accounting and works in the finance department. My late grandmother was a Home Health Aide for Gaudenzia’s 1306 Spring Garden location many years ago.

Getting the help that they needed changed my entire family’s life — my own life, the lives of my siblings and cousins, the lives of my daughters, and the lives of many future generations to come. I am certain that if it wasn’t for Gaudenzia, my life would be very different today. I am grateful to have married my soulmate, Jason, in 2019. We met in 10th grade at Roxborough High School, and he has been part of my journey for two decades. We share two daughters — Ciara, who is nine, and Kayla, who is 16.

I recently acquired a new hobby of gardening with my daughters. I enjoy planting seeds, and watching them grow, like our clients. Many come into our programs broken, like some of the seeds that I may purchase. However, upon nurturing and feeding them the appropriate nutrients, I watch them transform from seed to herb, vegetable, or fruit.

I’m proud to be a descendant from a family of Gaudenzia graduates. I’m proud to instill in my daughters some of the great values I learned while growing up at Gaudenzia, and I’m proud of every one of our clients for taking it one day at a time and believing not only in our organization’s mission, but also believing in themselves!

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