There is something inspiring about a family who has built something together, especially if that something is meant to help strengthen and heal an entire community. When you add in the fact that the mother-and-daughter team behind local nonprofit Vision Towards Peace had plenty of their own healing to achieve, you get a story of true resilience.
Vision Towards Peace, a Pittsburgh organization with the mission of providing generational wellness to one person at a time, is led by owner and lead clinician Erica Givner, with the help of her daughter Felicia Robinson.
At 15 years old, Givner was already a mother who had watched her oxwn mother fall into the throes of addiction.
“We've been in poverty and homeless and domestic violence, addiction. There's not a trauma our family has not experienced literally,” Givner tells Pittsburgh City Paper. During her mother’s recovery, Givner decided she needed to know all there was to know about this disease and how her mother fell victim to it.
“I just wanted to know what the hell happened to my mom,” she says.
Givner was determined to learn how her mother could go from washing her hair on a regular basis and providing meals for her neighbors to no longer being able to provide food for her own family. Seeking answers, the teenager went along with her mother to group therapy sessions during her rehab.
The family has a history of addiction, but Givner’s mother would be the first to seek help and go into treatment. “Statistics says we should not be here,” Givner says. “You know what I'm saying? God's hand is on our life. And we have a responsibility to do the same for others that we touch.”
Givner formed Vision Towards Peace over 10 years ago as a response to what she saw as a longtime stigma and fear in the Black community of seeking professional help for mental health issues.
“I opened VTP with a singular goal — provide a safe space for members of my community to work through their struggles, without judgment or prejudice,” says Givner.
Vision Towards Peace provides a long list of services, including individual, family, and group counseling services that focus on depression, PTSD, crisis intervention, and women’s issues. Anyone who needs help is welcome, Givner says, but the goal is to provide services to the Black community.
It’s also intentional that all of the licensed clinicians at Vision Towards Peace are Black. “There's nothing like a Brown person or Black person being able to understand that historical trauma from that lens,” says Givner. “We come with this level of immediate connection and understanding.”
While building the business, Givner says her daughter was by her side the entire time.Givner, who is now working on her doctorate, started out at the front desk and helping with child care for clients during their sessions. She says she hadn’t planned on going into this line of work. “If you talked to me 12 years ago, I would have told you I will be on a construction site somewhere,” Robinson says.
Then, after attending college as a safety science major, her priorities quickly shifted. “It really just comes down to family,” she adds. After having her son, Robinson, now 33, aimed to find an environment where he was safe and taken care of, and she found direction from her mother.
“I'm a strong and firm believer in the fact that when my mother wins, we all win,” Robinson says, “and so in whatever way I will be able to support that generational wellness and financial stability for our family to ensure that legacy, I'm going to do it.”
Even Givner’s mother helps with their operation; three generations working side-by-side to help make a change in the community where they are rooted.
Robinson is now the co-founder and executive director of a A Peace of Mind, an extension of Vision Towards Peace. A Peace of Mind Wellness Space and Child Care Center is a therapeutic art studio offering a variety of programming, as well as daycare services for children.
Offering daycare is key to their mission because, without reliable childcare, many of their clients wouldn’t be able to take the time needed to work on themselves. Givner says that predominantly mothers access the nonprofit’s mental health services.
“When they come to their appointments, they’re, like, ‘Who's going to watch the child?’”
The family is transparent about where they come from, and they continue to practice what they preach after working hard to build trust, compassion, and strong bonds with the community and each other. Generational trauma can affect anyone, they show, but it only takes one person to make that first step toward healing with the intent of breaking the cycle.
“We've been in therapy,” Givner says. “You know, this took years. I tell people all the time, ‘What you see was, like, a lot of work.’”
Vision Towards Peace. visiontowardspeace.com