LSSWis - Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan

Lutheran Social Services of
Wisconsin and Upper Michigan


Never Too Late: Rick’s Redemption

Rick Olson finds old things that have been discarded, but still have value. He washes them clean, and gives them a second chance to be useful by donating them to people in need. That picture is really the story of what happened in his own life.

Rick grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and said he “chased” drugs and alcohol nearly his entire life. He was severely addicted, and moved from one friend’s couch to another, eventually ending up homeless. He was at the end of himself, suicidal and alone. Until he wasn’t.

“My rock bottom was when my uncle found me living in an ice fishing shanty, drunk and on drugs. He said ‘Rick, help is out there.’”

A Turning Point

That was 2009. When Rick’s Uncle Dave, who he describes as a father figure to him, found him holed up in that abandoned shack, he convinced him to get help. He drove Rick to Marquette General Hospital, where he was admitted to the psychiatric unit for 14 days. During that difficult time, all Rick could do was cry. But as the tears poured down his face, something clicked, and Rick made the decision to turn his life around. When he was discharged, he had just $8 in his pocket, and he went to a nearby halfway house. It was there that he saw one of our flyers, reached out and met Sarah Fogaroli, a counselor. 

“Drugs and alcohol were my whole life before LSS.”

Sarah told Rick they could give him the tools to build a life for himself if he stayed clean. “That was my turning point,” said Rick.

Rick met with Sarah once a week for a full year. She introduced him to his first AA meeting, helped him successfully apply for Social Security through SOAR, a program that increases access to benefits for eligible applicants who are homeless, and then coached him in basic everyday skills he had never learned before.

“LSS taught me life skills, from banking to using a checkbook to shopping for groceries; I knew none of this!”

Giving Back

At 51 years old, Rick signed a lease and paid rent for his first apartment. He was no longer homeless or desperate. But he was grateful – so he began to do whatever he could to help the people and the community who had given him a second chance. 

“Rick is constantly giving back to LSS,” said Sarah. “I have never seen anything like it, but he has donated thousands of home goods and clothing items that have helped others in need. He has a big heart, and we are thankful for all he has given.”

Several times a year, when the local college kids move out, he scouts for things that could help others. He refurbished a wooden dresser, and donated it, and he brought to Christmas decorations he found for families who otherwise couldn’t afford any.

“Sarah at LSS literally would spend hours convincing me that I could volunteer and give back. One day, I saw a woman shoveling in front of her storefront, and for a year I helped her,” said Rick.

She didn’t have the money to pay him, but he continued to do it anyway for the entire winter. “Now I have a part-time job at her shop as a handyman.” Rick jokingly calls it the “girly store.” 

Twice a month, Rick also volunteers on the rehabilitation floor at Marquette General Hospital and with teens at Great Lakes Recovery, a treatment center for those addicted to drugs and alcohol. His story is one of brutal honesty, but also one of hope. “I share my story of misery, and then where I am today,” said Rick.  

Forever Changed

As Rick has remained firmly on the path of sobriety, he has also become a trusted member of the community and skilled in managing his life and his finances. Sarah showed him how to email, and he recently saved up and bought himself a computer and printer. He’s also purchased new dentures and a hearing aid, both on payment plans.

“I’ll always be grateful for how they accepted me as me and didn’t try to make me someone I wasn’t. LSS did not just help me change my life; they forever changed a part of me.”

647 W. Virginia Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204

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© 2016 Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan