Personal Stories of Recovery Highlight Inaugural Dream Again Gala

Monday, November 30, 2015

Family Services held its inaugural Dream Again Gala on Thursday, November 12, 2015 at the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel. The evening was a celebration of individuals who met difficult personal challenges in their lives, but persevered to dream again.

Byron Pitts, Chief National Correspondent of ABC News and co-host of ABC’s Nightline program and the Gala’s keynote speaker, spoke emotionally about being declared functionality mentally retarded while young and overcoming a stuttering problem to achieve his dream, with the strong support of others, of becoming a journalist.

In addition to Mr. Pitts, the agency also honored three of its service recipients with the Dream Again Award, Cortez Carey, Jason Ericsson and Eric Rogerson, who overcame equally difficult obstacles in their lives:

Cortez Carey:
One of six children born to his biological mother, Cortez entered the foster care system at birth. He was one of many in his extended family that entered the foster care system at some point in their lives. As a foster child, Cortez had a tremendous imagination and aspirations. Although he was adopted at age 6, he re-entered foster care at age 11 when the adoption failed.

By middle school, Cortez began a downhill slide. He had no dreams, no future goals or plans. Moving from house to house, group home to group home, and school district to school district left Cortez feeling tired and frustrated. The lack of stability in his home and school life became an expectation and a normal part of everyday living for Cortez. However, Cortez wasn’t defeated. Through his relationship with Christ, Cortez grew stronger. He aspired to be someone that would make a difference in his own life, as well as others.

As Cortez neared the age of transitioning out of the foster care system, he became involved with an independent living program that provided him with support as he grew into adulthood. With a laptop he received through Family Services’ Educational Assistance Initiative and support from staff in the agency’s Reaching Out to Create Success program, Cortez earned his Associate Degree from the Community College of Allegheny County.

In May of 2014, Cortez participated in a discussion at the White House with more than 60 other former foster youth aimed at creating policies to improve outcomes for America’s foster children. In December of 2014, Cortez received his Bachelor’s Degree from Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

Today, Cortez is employed with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services as an Educational Liaison. He is also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated and Pittsburgh Cares. In an interview he gave to Three Rivers Youth, Cortez stated, “I hope that I can pay it forward, because I’ve been helped so much.”

Jason Ericsson:
Jason was a productive thirty-seven year old, employed at a local steel factory and performing professionally as a bluegrass artist in his off hours. One day, his colleagues at work noticed that he was having a difficult time staying focused and seemed to be acting “strange.” His supervisor suggested that he go home for the day and get some rest. Unfortunately, Jason went home and never returned to work.

During his time off, Jason began to hear voices. He recalls the voices telling him that he needed to leave Pennsylvania to “be safe.” He wasn’t sleeping and didn’t feel as though he could trust anyone so he packed his car with plans to head west. Jason made it as far as Washington County when he began to panic. While trying to make a call to his family, the police came by and assumed, because of his agitated state, that he was under the influence of drugs. Even in his declining mental state Jason recalls vehemently denying that that he was using, but he was arrested anyway and spent the next three days in jail. A nurse who came to treat him recognized that Jason was experiencing a psychotic episode and requested an immediate referral to a psychiatric hospital where he was diagnosed with and began treatment for bipolar disorder.

After months of inpatient treatment, Jason was discharged and entered Family Services’ Acute Partial Hospitalization Program and then into a less restrictive treatment setting, Psychosocial Rehabilitation (PSR). For sixteen months, Jason worked closely with staff to improve his social and communications skills and develop a greater awareness of his condition. Although Jason was responding well to treatment it became apparent that he also suffered from a drug and alcohol addiction. Jason credits Family Services’ Acute Partial Hospitalization, Psychosocial Rehabilitation (PSR) and Drug and Alcohol programs for helping him regain control of his life and re-discovering the ability to play his music, something he had lost during his illness.

Today, Jason works as a Certified Peer Support Specialist for Family Services and plays locally with Wendy and the Lost Boys. “I feel that Family Services has saved my life,” said Jason, “and I will be forever grateful to this agency… and for the opportunity they have given me!”

Eric Rogerson:
Eric long considered himself to be a loner, somewhat of a misfit. He has minimal recollection of friends as a child and, throughout both junior high and high school, he recalls his peers calling him names, making fun of him, or just ignoring him. Eric recalls having symptoms of anxiety throughout his early years which later manifested into symptoms of depression and years of anxiety and low self-esteem.

Eric graduated from high school with hopes for a fresh start. Instead, he experienced his first episode of major depressive disorder and spent the next year isolated in his home. He rarely went out in public, and when he did, he was riddled with anxiety that forced him back into his home. It became a vicious cycle he would experience again and again throughout his life. His fear and sadness overwhelmed him and he felt as if he was making no progress in life. Eventually, he found the strength to make that fresh start he had hoped for a reality. In February 1981, Eric joined the army and was stationed for the next two and a half years in El Paso, Texas. During this time, he met new people, drove tanks, traveled to Germany and began to live a lifestyle that would help him "fit in." He also began drinking on a nightly basis.

After many years of struggling with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, in 2008, a few weeks following his father's death, Eric attempted suicide. He took large amounts of sleep medication with alcohol. He was semi-conscious when his mother found him. He remembers asking her why he wasn't dead. Following a stay in the intensive care and inpatient units of a local hospital, Eric was discharged to Family Services Adult Partial Hospitalization program and later began participating in the agency's Psychosocial Rehabilitation (PSR) program. With sustained treatment and supportive staff, his recovery began to take hold.

Eric now works three days a week at a local Goodwill and hopes to work for Borders Books. He relies on the coping skills he learned at Partial and at PSR to assist him in challenging times. The passion he developed for photography also plays a huge part in his recovery. “Because of the support I have received at Family Services,” said Eric, “there are also more personal things I dream about now and I know that if I keep trying, my dreams can came true.”

For photos of the Gala, please visit our Facebook page here.

Family Services would like to thank the following sponsors without whom this evening would not have been possible:

Headline Sponsors:


Presenting Media Sponsor:

Dreamer Sponsors:
Carlow University
Cohen & Grigsby, P.C.
Citizens Bank
Housing Authority - City of Pittsburgh
JRG Advisors
Maher Duessel

Dream Again Table Sponsors:
Allegheny County Housing Authority
Private Wealth Advisors
Sabio Springs

Dream Again Gift Sponsor:
Genius Marketing