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Overcoming all odds

Resident credits his survival to Frederick Ozanam House

Larry Sigmon's life used to be one full of drug addiction and prison sentences. However, after losing two children to suicide, he realized the importance of life and decided that he must completely change the direction he was going for over 30 years.

Larry Sigmon has been living in the Frederick Ozanam House (FOH) for 18 months. Seriously committed to overcoming addiction, Larry is a success story to say the least. A few years ago, he was homeless and on the run, trying to self-medicate his depression with drugs and alcohol while committing burglaries to support his habit. Today, Larry has a full-time job at Beans and Bread and the experience with the FOH has led him down a path filled with faith, volunteerism and compassion for the community.

There are four apartments in the FOH with five men living in each unit. Depending on the money earned at the job the men receive through the Strive program, the men are required to pay rent, not to exceed $275 a month, and also give $45 a month for groceries and other necessities.

Not only does Larry go to several Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week, but Monday through Thursday, he attends meetings at the FOH for grief and loss, relapse prevention, family relationships, and other groups that previous programs he's tried never provided. Also, the FOH conducts random urine tests to ensure that the residents are sticking with their commitment to a sober and fulfilling life.

"I started volunteering five days a week. I would work in the kitchen or behind the desk. They gave me a job as a receptionist for a couple of months and Stephanie, the director, came up to me and asked me if I'd like to be a staff member," said Larry.

Larry accepted the job offer and it was the transition he needed to start a new life with a positive attitude.

"It really made me feel good, they trust me. Before I couldn't even trust myself. It just built my self esteem up. The counselors they have here have really worked with me. The workers and directors here have given me great help as far as staying clean and continuing this journey for the rest of my life," said Larry.

A typical day for Larry includes waking up early and preparing for his job as a receptionist in the building underneath his apartment. As the receptionist for the outreach center, which includes a day resource lab and learning center, he is responsible for opening the facility. In the winter, when the doors usually do not open until 9:00 a.m., Larry makes sure he is there to welcome visitors around 6:30 a.m. and invites them into the warmth with fresh coffee and a friendly face.

"It really didn't click with me what I was doing. It really helped a lot of people. I just looked forward to doing that and now I listen to the news to find out if it's going to rain. I get up early just to get them out of the rain," said Larry.

Larry understands and relates to the men and women that come into the center. Being homeless for years himself, he treats the visitors with respect and tries to bring smiles to their faces. "Out there, they call me Mr. Larry. I've never had anybody call me Mr. Larry before. That makes me feel good because I'm trying to help whoever I can," said Larry.

For Larry, what separates the FOH from other programs are the counselors. "They can deal with what you're going through. Some of them have been through it and they can relate with what a person is going through. If you're willing to ask for the help, they are there to help you," said Larry.

He says that he's not the only one they devote their time and support to. "It's not just a 9 to 5 job here for them. You can really feel the love and the care here they have for you," said Larry.

The nurses at Meyer 5 have asked Larry to come speak to the patients about dual-diagnosis, living with depression and addiction. He has spoken at Loyola College to auditoriums filled with people and receives emails telling him how much his story has changed people's lives.

Today, Larry feels blessed by the FOH and the support he has received through them and through himself. "They really made me feel like they really love me and I was wanted. It wasn't just a 9 to 5 job to them, they go above their means to help somebody," said Larry.

As for the staff at the FOH, he couldn't agree more that they have helped him completely restructure his life. "If it weren't for the FOH here, I don't know where I'd be now," said Larry.

Larry has made monumental life changes and he is headed down the path of a life he thought he'd never have. His courage to survive and dedication to treatment has been an inspiration to others in the program. It takes the strongest will imaginable to overcome the obstacles he has faced, but Larry has achieved a goal that was once out of reach.

"I'm not responsible for the disease, but I am responsible for the recovery," said Larry.

Larry's ability to help others and treat them with the dignity and esteem they deserve is a quality that shines through him. The guidance of the FOH gave him the resources he needed to get better, but Larry's drive and devotion for being compassionate to others is truly the greatest gift.

Related Stories

Beans and Bread meal program: A line forms on the corner of Bond Street in Fells Point five days a week.

Beans and Bread offers transitional housing for recovering addicts: The Frederick Ozanam House provides more than just shelter four five-bedroom apartments where 20 men recovering from addiction live communally.

Beans and Bread outreach center: Learning lab and day resource center offers more than just food for the needy.

Fells Point has the heart of Baltimore: From the heart of Fells Point Beans and Bread serves people in need.

I'm a survivor: Larry Sigmon's story is one of survival.

More than just a meal: The history of Beans and Bread, Fells Point’s outreach center.

Transcription of Interview - Larry Sigmon