'Doing the next Right thing'
By Tom Larson, Sun Tribune
ecovery groups stress the reality that people often need to fall to the depths of despair before seeking help.
For Kip Carmen, that moment came as he awaited a 30-month prison term for assault.
Once out, he met Hancock native Mark Foss and Jay Jenson, leaders of LifeRight Outreach. He became a "new believer."
"It was in jail, before I got sentenced," said Carmen, 43. "I just got tired of going to prison."
Carmen is among 13 men who, since February, have come to LifeRight, which was founded by Foss as a transitional, faith-based housing, counseling and ministerial center in Alexandria.
LifeRight is planning its second-annual fundraiser hog roast on Saturday, Aug. 1, at the center at 1906 6th Ave. East, in Alexandria.
The family event, which runs from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., will feature prizes and games for kids and adults, and the hog roast from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. A band is scheduled to play and Foss and Jenson will share testimonials during a program beginning at 5 p.m.
LifeRight was founded in 2007, and Foss and other Hancock associates, Pat Conroy and Dean Peterson, worked to buy a closed church to start the transitional home, learning and worship center.
The church is now almost completely renovated, with Foss, who owns a construction company, doing or arranging most of the rehab work.
LifeRight is not a half-way house but a transitional, drug- and alcohol-free housing alternative for people coming out of prison or bad situations and need some stability in order to get their lives turned around.
There are rooms for 10 residents, living and work areas, a workout room, showers, a full kitchen and a sanctuary area for services and meetings.
In addition to housing, the center helps arrange work for the residents, and offers an array of other services.
Carmen and another resident are working at a auto repair shop in Alexandria, and others have gotten jobs in construction and other fields.
On Wednesdays, local business owners come in for a weekly Wednesday morning breakfast, and about 50 people showed up for a Wednesday, July 22, evening service.
"It's working better than expected," said Foss, who noted that he's received several calls from people in the Morris and Hancock areas about the facility.
The facility, which is for men only, has had 13 residents come for various lengths of stay. A few have been asked to leave for breaking rules, but most have moved on and are doing well. Some come back to the center regularly for services or meetings, Foss said.
"People have to want to make a change if they're going to be here," Foss said. "We're pretty picky about who we bring in here. We say we'll get serious about their lives when they do."
Foss is aware how important that is. He spent years using and dealing drugs, and committing offenses which eventually led to long stretches of incarceration. He's been through rehab many times and is indebted to the people who accepted his past and his resolutions to live clean and sober after he was last released from prison in August 2005.
Their actions gave him the idea for LifeRight. And his involvement led him to Jenson, who is now LifeRight's Director of Ministry.
Jenson, an Alexandria native, was a professional drummer in his teens, spent eight years in the Marines and then worked in senior levels in sales and management. He was married for 24 years and had three kids
But drugs cost him his marriage, his home and possessions.
"I traveled the country, made a bunch of money and had lots of toys, but I lost it all due to life issues," he said.
About three years ago, he turned to Christ and recently left his sales job for a company selling skidloaders and devoted himself to LifeRight.
"I had life by the tail, by society's standards," Jenson said. "Now, I don't have the possessions I once had but I have a lot more in terms of faith and hope in my life."
Jenson's wife, Rochelle, and Foss' wife, Nikol, knew each other, and introduced their husbands at a picnic. They discovered they both got engaged on the same day and their weddings were a week apart. Later, they were baptized on the same day.
Their bond and successes are an asset to promoting LifeRight. Jenson said the facility could be full all the time, but that there are hard, fast rules and they are enforced.
"Having it full isn't as important as having guys here who want to make a difference for themselves," Jenson said.
Carmen said residents get the picture quickly.
"Just in groups, there's accountability," Carmen said. "Everyone makes each other accountable."
Accepting the faith-based approach is a non-negotiable stipulation, Jenson said.
"You don't have to be a Christian to be here," he said, "but they have to realize we are faith-based and they have to have respect for what we're trying to do here."
Foss said LifeRight has fostered good working relationships with law enforcement, probation, parole and social services officials.
LifeRight would like to extend its reach, Foss said of long-term goals.
"I'd like to see them all over the state, to be honest," he said. "Maybe a women's facility. There's a huge need for this."
But Foss and Jenson know the risks of growing too quickly.
"We don't want to get big just to get big," Jenson said. "You can go a mile wide and an inch deep and you haven't done anything for anybody."
So, for now, LifeRight will continue on according to its motto: Do the next right thing.
"We've seen some really neat success stories," Jenson said. "People leaving here with hope."