Erica Givner said ‘No’ to a job and ‘Yes’ to a career of her own creation


Northeast / Pennsylvania 71 Views

ERICA GIVNER, right, with her daughter, Felicia Renee Robinson, at “A Peace of Mind” in Wilkinsburg. (Photo by Gail Manker)

In the six short years since 2012 when she left her $60,000-a-year job as a drug and alcohol social worker at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Erica Givner set up a private practice, started a non-profit, purchased two buildings, fought with Wilkinsburg and the City of Pittsburgh over taxes, had a building gutted and redone…

And all this went on while seeing clients, back-to-back, six days a week, conducting small groups for her clients after-hours, and beginning the annual event, “Passion Meets the Road,” that recognizes individuals who work in the social service industry—work for which there is rarely any thanks given.

Her decision to leave the VA to open her private practice came with its share of criticism and disbelief from family and co-workers. But “nine years at the VA was enough—I felt I had to be in charge of my own comings and goings, I was done with every move I made being monitored like it was in that environment.”

It didn’t help that her personal life was in a bit of upheaval as well. Her two daughters, both of whom were in college, were pregnant, and her foster daughter was calling to say she needed to come back home. “I pulled my daughters out of school, told my foster daughter to come on and found a five-bedroom house in Highland Park and along with my son, we all moved into it.”

She found office space in the Hill District and began to look into setting up shop there. An address where clients would be seen was crucial in order to get credentialing from Community Care Behavioral Health Organization (CCOB)—this credentialing was extremely necessary if her business was to be successful.

ERICA GIVNER was previously named a New Pittsburgh Courier “Woman of Excellence.”

She was ready to sign the lease at the Victory Center Building on Centre Avenue and give them a deposit, but couldn’t afford the rent until she acquired a client base. “My conversations with God kicked in—He told me to ask them for three months free rent…I promised them I’d get it together, but really needed these three months,” Givner said. “They expressed concern that the board may not approve, but I was not surprised when the Wednesday after their board meeting, the owners came back with the ‘yes’ answer I was expecting.”

In June 2012 she left the VA, pulled out her 401K, and put her shingle up on the Hill District offices of “Vision Towards Peace Therapeutic Services.”

Little did she know this was just the first leg in a journey that would not only lead to servicing more clients, but building business and social service partnerships that she hardly anticipated.

After two years on Centre Avenue, she heard from God again, telling her to move. “I told him, ‘No!’ This is working out well here.’”

But, “That same day that I heard from Him, I got an email from the building owners simply saying I had to leave. I was blindsided because moving a mental health practice is a big deal, it meant getting a new address credentialed—so you can’t just pick up and practice anywhere—which made this far more complicated—I needed time.”

Givner petitioned them for the time she needed—they gave her the time, and by Nov. 1, 2014, “Vision Towards Peace” moved into its new space on Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg.

Givner was still nervous about potential client loss, but said, “God would (handle) it. I transferred over 130 active clients and we only lost three people and gained so much more because the bus route was actually easier to get to our new offices. So yes, I take my conversations with God literally.”

Continuing to see mental health and the approach to treatment as a significant challenge in the Black community, in 2014 Givner and her daughter, Felicia Renee Robinson, wrote an application for the 501c3 that would become “A Peace of Mind,” a non-traditional therapeutic art studio that would incorporate a variety of programming from Hip-Hop aerobics and Zumba, yoga, pilates, art therapy and so much more. The vision they had included not just the studio, but an apartment for use by individuals dealing with emotional and mental health issues, and a 20-hour daycare center (slated for opening this May).

Accolades have come calling for Givner. In September 2017 she was recognized and named as Wilkinsburg’s Business Woman of the year. In January 2018 she was voted as the president of the Wilkinsburg Chamber of Commerce (WCC), becoming just the second African American woman to hold the title in the last 16 years.

“As WCC President, I come with the same passion for working for Wilkinsburg businesses as I have in providing treatment for my clients,” Givner said. “They trust me with their emotional well-being, and I hope the Wilkinsburg business community can entrust me with working on their behalf as well.”

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