Living life rightIn the back of a police car on his way to prison for the third time, Mark Foss uttered a desperate cry for help.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
In the back of a police car on his way to prison for the third time, Mark Foss uttered a desperate cry for help.
“You need to take this from me,” he pleaded.
The Lord answered, and since that day, the once hard-core drug addict, drug dealer and frequent visitor to jails and prisons hasn’t so much as touched a cigarette or a beer.
It has now been eight years since Foss conquered his addictions and surrendered his life to Christ. Since then, he has made it his goal to pay it forward to other lost souls searching for a way out of their addictions. One of those ways is through an organization he started in Alexandria called LifeRight Outreach.
LifeRight Outreach is a home and faith-based program to help those getting back into mainstream society get a job and some productive, healthy order in their lives.
The facility took in its first clients in February 2009. Since that time, 29 men have had the opportunity to turn their lives around and overcome their addictions by developing a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Following are two of those success stories.
From counselor to
He was supposed to be a savior, but he was the one who was saved. Steve Sachs knows that LifeRight saved his life.
“I gained the spiritual aspect and finally accepted Christ into my heart,” he said. “It has been a blessing ever since. It has taken the urge of drinking away and all the shame and guilt.”
Sachs started drinking at age 12. In college on a track and football scholarship, dorm life encouraged his unhealthy habit. When he spent a couple years riding bulls on the rodeo circuit, alcohol was a constant “source of bravery.”
He went on to become an orthopedic physician’s assistant (PA) for about 20 years. Toward the end of that time, because of the stress of working in trauma centers in the Twin Cities, his drinking picked up.
“At night I would unwind with a few drinks,” he recalled. “It got to the point where I was living to drink.”
A move to Wyoming and a job as a PA on an Indian reservation exacerbated his drinking and Sachs finally ended up in treatment. He sobered up and became a chemical dependency counselor himself, fulfilling his dream to work at Hazelden in Minnesota.
For 14 years Sachs stayed sober and was a successful counselor. But four years ago his son committed suicide and it sent him into a tailspin of depression and he resumed his drinking habit.
“Just about 24 hours a day I was drinking,” he said. “Probably two to three fifths [of whiskey] a day with a 12-pack of beer to wash it down.”
The hypocrisy of his situation made it even worse.
“Here I was teaching someone not to do this, and I was going out to my car at noon and taking a shot of whiskey,” he said.
In 2007, Sachs broke his leg in a car accident, which occurred while he was under the influence of alcohol. The DUI forced him to go into treatment at Hazelden. He went from being a counselor there to being a patient, what he considers an “embarrassing and humbling experience.”
With his latest return to alcohol, his wife divorced him. He completed his treatment at Hazelden in May 2007, sober but with nowhere to go. He was introduced to Alexandria resident Dave Schonberg through a friend and spent about six months at the Schonbergs, doing “a lot of Scripture reading and trying to get it right with God.”
He then met Mark Foss, who asked him to be the house manager at LifeReach Outreach Center. It changed his life.
“Moving into LifeRight was a godsend,” Sachs said. “Working with other clients took me out of my own problems. I was getting help as I was helping others.”
About a year ago, on the day he moved out of LifeRight to get his own place, Sachs was involved in another car accident, this time with no alcohol involved. He broke both femurs, both knees and both hips. But this time he didn’t turn to alcohol to help him through a difficult time – because he had LifeRight.
“I kept in contact with LifeRight, and I had formed a really good friend nucleus,” he explained of how he made it through. “My life is more God-centered right now and it kept me from wanting to drink again.”
“It’s a lifesaver,” he concluded. “Once my belief in God became stronger and I was doing His will and not mine, eventually things seemed to improve. I was really blessed along the way.”
Finding the right tools
Shannon Luoma had a completely different lifestyle than Sachs. He wasn’t a “functioning alcoholic” with a professional career, a wife and a family.
Luoma started drinking at 14 and was into drugs and alcohol throughout high school. By the time he was a junior, he was drinking almost every day. After high school he traveled from place to place, working odd jobs and drinking.
The birth of a child and the subsequent break-up with the baby’s mother sent Luoma into a depression and his alcohol abuse worsened.
“I threw in the towel,” he said. “I started getting into trouble with the law, getting DUIs and was in and out of jail.”
Luomo went through treatment three times, but the longest he ever stayed sober was six months. Originally from Staples, last year he moved to Alexandria to the New Visions Center, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment program.
Through a contact there he heard about Foss. On December 1, 2009, with nowhere to go, no job, no driver’s license, and a “broken man,” Luoma moved to LifeRight.
“He [Foss] took me in with open arms and offered to help me in any way he could,” Luoma said.
A little skeptical at first about the spiritual aspect and opening his heart to Jesus Christ, Luoma vowed to be open minded. And it worked. He soon realized that if he turned to God, he wouldn’t need to turn to the bottle.
“Looking back, honestly, I think I had all the tools, but I never had any spirituality,” Luoma said of his failed recovery attempts. “I guess with God, I feel like I’m not going to be abandoned. I never feel a sense of loneliness. I feel like I have witnessed firsthand the things He has done in my life.”
Luoma has taken an active part in all the meetings, support groups and worship sessions that take place daily at LifeRight. He got his driver’s license back and has resumed a relationship with his family, friends and two boys, ages 5 and 8.
“Stuff that we would pray about started falling into place,” Luoma said of his surrender to the spiritual aspect of the treatment.
He is currently attending Alexandria Technical College full time and plans to earn a bachelor’s degree, with the goal of becoming an addictive counselor.
Although there is no time limit as to how long a tenant can stay at LifeRight, Luoma knows that soon it will be time for him to move out on his own. But he plans on maintaining an active role in the activities there, and knows that with their help, he can do it.
“I can’t give my thanks and gratitude enough to [Liferight] for saving my life,” he said. “I think I very well could have died.”
With his future plans of being a counselor, Luoma will pass on the lesson he never would have learned if not for LifeRight – to never give up hope.
“Anybody, no matter how far down the road they have gone, can change,” he concluded. “Nobody is too broken to be fixed.”
• LifeRight Outreach will hold its 3rd annual hog roast on Saturday, June 5 from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at LifeRight Outreach Center, 1906 6th Avenue East, Alexandria. There will be kids’ games, entertainment and music.
• A bike blessing will be held in May at LifeRight, the date to be announced. Participants can bring their motorcycles and have them blessed for safety during motorcycle season, followed by a short ride, food and refreshments.
For information about LifeRight, contact Mark Foss, executive director and founder, at (320) 766-0233, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or Jay Jenson, director of ministry, at (320) 760-7474.