Program transforms former addicts
WILLMAR — Al Cesarlo, nutrition specialist at LifeRight Outreach, lives a sober life and said his faith is what keeps him on track.
LifeRight Outreach opened earlier this summer in Willmar and provides housing and other resources to men recovering from addictions.
Cesarlo works full-time at the center, cooking meals for residents who are overcoming chemical addictions. His life was not always the way it is today, however.
“I was a drug addict for 40 years,” Cesarlo said. “God is the only answer.”
LifeRight Outreach is based out of Alexandria and expanded to include the Willmar location in July. The organization provides housing, life skills and support centered on faith.
Mark Foss, executive director of LifeRight Outreach, said it is necessary to have a Christian-based transitional housing facility in the area.
“The need is huge here,” Foss said. “If you don’t surrender your life to Christ, you won’t be successful in recovering from addiction. Some people can stay clean, but they won’t have a full life.”
The facility in Willmar currently houses 15 residents who participate in Christ-centered programs daily. Foss hopes to eventually house 30 to 35 residents.
Cesarlo said he went in and out of treatment for his past drug addiction, but added that LifeRight Outreach in Alexandria was the place that kept him sober.
He went to culinary school years ago and now is able to spend time developing his cooking skills.
“It saved my life,” Cesarlo said. “It pointed me towards Christ and I learned how to make good choices.”
Foss said LifeRight Outreach was contacted by a local steering committee after employees had been praying about opening a facility in Willmar.
Cecil Meyer, a member of the steering committee and now program administrator at LifeRight in Willmar, said the group does not have a formal title. It is comprised of local people with a common interest: looking for Christian transitional housing programs for recovering addicts.
Meyer said all of the members have been affected by chemical addiction in some way or know someone who has been affected.
Meyer said it seemed like fate to have LifeRight expand locally.
Meyer also said LifeRight is a forward-looking organization and expects to expand in other locations.
After the men’s recovery center opened in Willmar last month, LifeRight was also able to expand its program in Alexandria to include a women’s center, as well.
Nikol Foss, wife of Mark Foss and director of the women’s center in Alexandria, said opening the women’s center has provided even more opportunities for LifeRight.
“I really believe it’s going to give women the opportunity to be closer to their families, be better employees, be better employers,” said Nikol Foss. “There’s a huge need to help women who are desperate to change their lives.”
Participants in LifeRight programs generally have had treatment before and are sober, but the center occasionally takes those who are still addicted to drugs or alcohol.
The center also makes financial arrangements for those who cannot afford to attend.
“We pride ourselves in never turning down anyone because of funding,” Mark Foss said.
Residents come from all backgrounds and ages, some with past run-ins with the law.
Staff at the outreach center help former addicts adjust to new, sober lives.
The program assists participants with challenges like finding work and getting a driver’s license.
Esteban Enriquez, a resident at LifeRight, was addicted to meth for 10 years and went to prison three times before he found the program.
He now wakes up every morning to devotions that he said inspire his day and attends Ridgewater College with the hope of graduating with a welding degree.
“I can go to anyone here and talk about my problems,” Enriquez said.