Beginning as an intern for Rosecrance 13 years ago, Amy has since transitioned through several positions from Floor Nurse to Nurse Manager and then Healthcare Provider. Amy now serves as the Director of Nursing at Rosecrance where she splits her time between providing healthcare directly to clients and overseeing nurses at all Rosecrance Inc. locations. Amy explains that as Director of Nursing she tries her best to empower other nurses, help them achieve their own goals and provide education on the magnitude of behavioral health nursing.
“Behavioral health clients are simply everywhere,” she says. “It’s such an important concept throughout the whole spectrum of nursing and I want to encourage new nurses to consider behavioral health nursing as an option. I want them to realize the skills we use are so varied, so very important and understand it really is a very rewarding profession.”
However, even though Amy’s lead responsibility is supervising the team of nurses and ensuring they have the knowledge and information they need to provide the best possible care to Rosecrance clients, her primary passion is still direct client care.
“The most rewarding part of my job is in those moments where a client can truly smile at me,” she explains. “There was a woman who I worked with for 2 years in outpatient services. She would come to my office and just curl in on herself. It was clear she wanted to make herself small and invisible. She didn’t have good self-confidence at time and was feeling very depressed. I recently got to transition her out of my care and on her last visit I saw a very confident young woman sitting in my office with her head high, chin up, smiling. It was a really a great moment. To me success in what I do looks like clients achieving their goals.”
She adds “The most challenging part is knowing that there are limits to what we do. We can only go so far and the rest of it is up to client. Of course our natural instinct is to help as much as we can, more so and more so every time, so knowing that limit is difficult.”
Amy received her Associate’s degree from Rock Valley College in 2009, her Bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University in 2011, her Master’s degree in Family Nurse Practice in 2015, and her Post-Master’s degree in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practice in 2017.
When asked what it’s like to witness the transformation in clients she cares for, she explains: “There’s nothing I can describe it with. I birthed a child and to me watching the clients grow is almost as rewarding. Being able to see them reach their goals and witness the hard work they put into their recovery is incredible.”
“Recovery is hard work,” she adds. “It takes dedication every single day whether it is recovering from mental health concerns or substance use concerns and it is truly life-changing. The courage and bravery it takes cannot be understated. For me, witnessing recovery is one of the miracles of life.”
Faces of Rosecrance: Sandra Knezevic
March 29, 2017
“I have a passion for people for whom I feel like society has turned the other way. I want to help the underdogs. I love being able to fight the stigma associated with substance abuse and mental health that keeps so many people from seeking help.”
Sandra Knezevic, a unit coordinator at the Rosecrance Harrison Campus, has been with Rosecrance since December 2015. Before working at Rosecrance, she was an intern with TASC at the Cook County jail, providing case management services.
“I run a specialty empowerment group that helps our girls work on their self-esteem. I’m very proud of that group. They’re learning how to challenge some of their negative core beliefs and how to replace those with some more positive ones. I think most of our girls struggle with low self-esteem, which is why it’s such an important group for our clients. You’ll have kids who won’t even make eye contact in group because they fear judgment, and then by the end of their stay here they’ll be leading the group.
“I think a lot of our kids don’t have an adult in their lives who is a positive role model. I have the opportunity here to really influence someone and help them see their own worth. When they come to a realization that they are worth something… that’s huge.
“I always use the metaphor of going to Home Depot and buying all these tools… then you have to go and build a house. When you’re in treatment, you’re getting the tools, these coping skills, to fill your tool belt… but it’s not until you leave that you get the chance to apply those skills to build your recovery and sobriety. The hard work comes after they leave,” Sandra said.
“Even though it’s still pretty early in my career, I feel that I do a pretty good job of having a strict line between my personal life and my work life. What makes it easier is that I have coworkers with whom I can process my own feelings. They are there to support me and they are willing to have those difficult conversations. Self-care is a big thing.
“One of the most impressive things to me as a new staff person was how welcoming everybody was. The culture in this building… there was a lot of welcoming, a lot of ‘How can I help?’ There’s a little bit of a sense of family.
“I had a client in our recovery home at Marlowe. She was one of my first clients when I came to work here; she was 10 to 11 months sober and had a little relapse. She reached out, and we got her into the Marlowe Recovery House. She just graduated high school. This is a client who doesn’t have any family support. Her mom and dad suffer from mental illness, she has six siblings who all abuse drugs. She’s come very close to dying several times – car accidents, overdoses, and hospitalizations. It’s incredible to see her still want recovery, despite not having anything to lean back on. Even someone with such a sad, sad story can still make it.”
Gail Raney is Administrator of Rosecrance Central Illinois and has a master’s degree in public administration. She started working for Prairie Center in 2002, which merged into Rosecrance in January 2018.
“I consider myself fortunate to have worked with so many people who are doing all they can to make a positive impact on other people’s lives. These wonderful people are always striving to keep improving. They never give up when tackling a problem, no matter how large it may appear. Being a part of such a terrific team drives me to be the best I can be,” says Raney.
Raney is inspired not only by the staff that she oversees, but also the clients we serve.
“I have been blessed to have worked with fantastic professionals over the years, but it’s our clients who motivate me the most. In our field, we are trying to help people make huge changes in their lives. I am always inspired when I witness the effort they put forth as they work towards sustaining their recovery. I have seen people who ‘had it all’ then lost everything—their job, home, family—and they came to us feeling very broken. To see them healthy and full of hope is so inspiring.“
Peter Mowris, Family Program Coordinator for Rosecrance Harrison Campus, works with families of adult clients in residential treatment for substance use disorders. “I spend more time with the families of clients than any other staff member. I get to see the issue from both sides.”
Peter has a Ph.D. and taught across the country before coming to Rosecrance. His work on the young men’s residential unit and the traditional men’s unit ignited in him an inner passion for the Rosecrance mission, which continues to grow in his current position. “I’m really glad I worked on the men’s unit, because it gave me a lot of contact with clients. That’s really helpful when talking with families, who are genuinely curious to know what the treatment experience is like.”
Regarding the family program, Peter sees tremendous value in giving families a chance to have their voice heard. “I never lose sight of the fact that most families are talking about this issue openly for the first time with people outside their family. We provide a safe space for them to do that, and it’s powerful.”
Peter also runs groups for clients in treatment, to help them learn how to make amends with their families. “They all want their families to trust them again. If it’s their first time in treatment, they have this idea that they can figure this all out by the end of the month… but recovery is a lifelong process.”
Abby Nelson has been with Rosecrance for 17 years and is the therapeutic recreation coordinator. She got her degree in exercise physiology and coached high school varsity basketball before coming to Rosecrance. “When you coach at a varsity level, it’s very matter-of-fact: you’re there to win,” says Nelson. “My approach was a little bit stricter, and when I came to Rosecrance, I had to loosen those reins. I had to be in touch with different situations, stories and circumstances rather than just being focused on completing the task.”
The adolescent clients at Griffin Williamson Campus use the fitness center three days a week and participate in recreation twice a week. Typically during “rec,” they play games such as basketball, kickball or volleyball.
“These kids’ bodies are in terrible condition. They haven’t done a good job of taking care of themselves in terms of their physical health, so they need to rebuild that. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about our department is that it is just playtime for the kids. These moments when they are relaxed are when we can make the biggest impact. As an organization, I think we’ve gotten a lot better at being intentional with those moments.”
Abby Nelson talks about the importance of recreation in the recovery process:
“A big part of participating in experiential therapies (art, recreation, drumming circles) is having fun. If you’re not having fun and enjoying life when you’re sober, you’re not going to stick with your recovery. We need to find something that these kids connect with. We also know they need repetition to learn things, so we cram in as much recovery knowledge and practice as we can get. It’s a lot easier to practice those recovery skills in a game. When we talk about assertively communicating, or holding each other accountable, it’s a little bit easier to get practice at that skill when they’re in rec. Sometimes they let their guard down when they’re playing games and they don’t even realize that they’re practicing those skills.”
“We process after every activity that we do. Playing a game is great, but taking it to the next step and getting that deeper meaning are what we do in therapeutic rec. We have them talk about how they will apply that skill in other areas of life.”
From her 17 years of experience working with the teen clients at Rosecrance, Abby is confident of this:
“Recovery works. If people are willing to make a change, it works. It looks a little bit different on everybody. Just because a kid is in treatment doesn’t mean that they are mess-ups or that they aren’t capable of healing or becoming productive members of society.”
Brenda Hunt has been with Rosecrance for seven years and works as the nurse manager at the Griffin Williamson Campus, which serves teenagers recovering from substance use disorders. She believes that substance use disorders are likeactually a disease process. An addict should be treated the same “as someone who has kidney failure, liver failure, cancer, anything like that,” says Hunt. “We don’t get mad at the person who comes in because they have a broken arm. I don’t think we should get mad at the person who has a substance abuse or mental health issue, either.”
Brenda’s goal is to lead and provide support to the nursing team. She also works with parents and psychiatrists to ensure the operations in her department run smoothly.
At a minimum, every adolescent client will be seen by nursing staff twice a day. Aside fromIn addition to routine visits, clients will see nursing staff for injury assessments or illness. Rosecrance also offers detox services at Griffin Williamson Campus, and these teens are placed in the bedroom closest to the unit station, bathroom, and hallway so that nurses are able to provide care as quickly as possible.
“It’s a hard decision for the family to send their child here, and it’s hard work for our clients to be here. We try to encourage the clients and tell them that they’re worth the hard work. We meet some of the smartest kids that come through here; we try to help them believe in themselves.
“I have been so grateful since I’ve come here. I believe that I get to supervise the greatest team of nurses. They are so incredibly passionate about what we do. We all want these kids to be healthy; the joy that we get when our clients come back to be a speaker to our groups, that’s amazing.”
Carlene Cardosi is Chief Operating Officer of Rosecrance Inc. She previously worked as Vice President of Residential Services and has been with Rosecrance since 2008. She has worked at both the adolescent and adult residential substance abuse treatment centers in Rockford.
“I moved to Rockford to work at Rosecrance. When I worked as an intern, I lived in Arlington Heights and drove here 3 days a week. When I started full-time and moved here, the only people whom I knew in town were Rosecrance staff… my supervisor, Ann Petty, literally helped me move.”
Carlene started as an intern working with adolescent girls at the Griffin Williamson Campus, and she has worked her way up through various positions across the organization. After her internship she worked as a primary counselor with the girls and then as a unit coordinator with the boys. She was then given the opportunity to supervise the women’s programming at the Harrison Campus for adults.
“I circled through all of the units at the Harrison Campus at some point,” Carlene said, “And re-did treatment schedules, and just made sure that we were doing evidence-based programming and doing the best that we could for the clients who were coming in through our doors.”
In 2017 Carlene was promoted to Clinical Director of Residential Services, where she developed programs for both adolescents and adults. In 2018 she was promoted to Regional Administrator, and she oversaw services in Milwaukee, McHenry County, Des Plaines, and Chicago. Most recently, Cardosi served as Vice President of Residential Services, and she supervised Rosecrance’s Griffin Williamson and Harrison campuses in Rockford and the Lakeview facility in Chicago.
“The problem of addiction is in your backyard, whether you think it is or not. I currently live in a small town in Wisconsin. Somebody a couple houses down from us passed away from an opiate addiction. This is a town of 9,000 people. Everybody there thinks it’s not happening close to them, but the truth is that it is going to affect your children, family or loved one. It’s not someone else’s problem, it’s our problem.
“There are a lot of full-circle moments for me. All of those pieces of your life that you think, ‘Why in the world did I have to go through all of these things?’ They all fell together into the life that I now have. I do know what it’s like to lose people to addiction. I do know what it’s like to be the family member, to love the person and hate the addiction. I have that empathy for all of those conflicting feelings.”