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Mt. Zion House changing mens' lives

Director hopes to expand rehab program

May 19, 2010 | 08:49 AM
Lyons — "I have traveled the world and all churches should do what you do here."

That was just what one church leader had to say after visiting Mt. Zion House, a men's drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

Pastor John LaGalbo also had traveled before he became the director of the house, based out of Mt. Zion Church. He started a life and family in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to get away from Wisconsin winters. During that time, he also helped set up and direct a rehabilitation center.

Originally from Wisconsin, LaGalbo never thought he'd be convinced to come back to the northern cold.

That was until he learned about Mt. Zion Church's desire to build a men's drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

His brother, an insurance salesman at the time, had the church as a client and discussed LaGalbo in conversation.

"The pastor at the time told him to look out the back window and there was this shell of a building," LaGalbo said. "My brother told me about it and I said, 'That's great. I'll pray for them.'"

He didn't give it much more thought until he was in the area visiting family and offered advice to Mt. Zion on how to get the center up and running.

"I met with a pastor here and they liked what I had to say," he said. "Eventually, they called and asked if I would at least start it for them, so I thought and prayed and at the end of it, I just felt that God was calling me here."

The building no longer is a shell — hidden behind the church itself, the center looks more like a well-kept family home.

LaGalbo said the church and community members came together to purchase the materials and rebuild the shell with their own hands.

It opened in 1996 with LaGalbo, his wife, Sharon, and his son living in the building.

They lived in what LaGalbo called their apartment for three years to establish the center as a safe environment with round-the-clock staff.

"When you have nothing, and you start something, the biggest thing is getting the word out," he said. "I already had a program in place but we needed to let people know that we existed. I would go out and shake hands with business owners, introduce myself. I sent mailings to judges, circuit courts, hospitals, clinics and other churches."

He said once people knew it existed, word of mouth became so widespread that Mt Zion House has had men from 30 different states come to start anew.

The inside walls of the house nearly are full of certificates of all the men who have left the program sober.

LaGalbo said about 200 men have graduated from the drug and alcohol program he has set up, and about one out of every four men who come to the center will graduate.

The men range from about 18 years old to their 60s, he said. About 15 to 20 men may be living at the house at one time and the capacity is 24.

The program works in three phases. The first is at no charge.

"We accept the men as they are without a job, insurance or anything else," LaGalbo said.

Men are given a full, strict schedule every day for the first 28 days, including volunteer work, classes, group discussions, church attendance and meals, among other activities.

The second phase is where men will find a full-time, first-shift job and begin to fund the program as their paycheck allows.

LaGalbo said the standard price is $150 per week, but no one is ever turned away for inability to pay.

The third phase mainly consists of added privileges for men who are assessed as ready.

For example, they may be allowed to drive their cars to family events instead of just work.

LaGalbo said through community-based programs such as volunteering at the Mt. Zion food pantry, the men begin to learn concepts they may have lost sight of through their addictions.

"They learn what it is to give back and rather than giving into selfish ambitions, they begin to understand other-centeredness," LaGalbo said. "They learn to be men of integrity, truth tellers and they understand the consequences of their sins and addictions. They learn those bad decisions not only affect themselves, but their family, employers and everyone around them."

He said the major goal of the program is to make the men whole again through teaching honesty, work ethic and also how to restore bridges they've burned with loved ones.

One of LaGalbo's main desires for the men is that they return to a normal life as a valuable member of their community.

Also, a number of men who graduated from the program have stayed at the house to help run it and care for incoming addicts.

Even the county has noticed the facility. LaGalbo said Walworth County officials have recognized Mt Zion House as a crime prevention program.

Some of the men who seek help from the house are on probation, parole or have charges pending.

And many of them will receive reduced sentences because they are enrolled in the program, LaGalbo said.

But his job doesn't always mean congratulating men with renewed lives.

"We deal with men that society has rejected and they find us after they've been rebellious, liars, thieves or they've abused themselves or others," LaGalbo said. "I've gone to funerals of men and have to explain to their family why they didn't get it. So, I tell the men in the program now, 'I don't want to bury you. You don't deserve that.' They deserve the best I can give them. I believe every one of them can be freed."

He said while the shelf-life for his position is about two years, he's been at it for the last 16 years and he calls his job "a gift."

"God gifted me with the ability not to take it personally or get emotional when men fail," he said. "It still does hurt when that happens but I understand my commission is to care for them while they're here and when they leave, I have to turn them over to God. When I do see the men set free and back with their family — there's no greater joy."

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