“God Showing Up and Showing Off”
by Mark LaPalme, Founder and CEO
A life redeemed from any place is a miracle. This is an attempt to tell the story about my life redeemed.
This was and is my journey. I don’t claim this to be a model for anyone else nor do I want to glory in the trash of my life but give God the Glory for the transformation.
I was born in Wauregan, Connecticut, a town of about 500. Mom and Dad were married for 53 years before my mom passed. My dad worked at the same place for 30+ years, and we lived in the same home for over 40 years. My sister has two masters’ degrees and my brother is a Vietnam War veteran. I was raised Catholic but was a poor Catholic at that.
I started using drugs at 14 as a result of a friend of mine whose life I had saved from drowning a few years before. Prior to abusing drugs, I was a straight A or high B student. I was always a bit of a loner – not extraverted at all. I liked school and I liked baseball and running. That all changed when I was high. I was transformed into a lazy extravert but I loved the attention it got me especially with the girls. I began having sexual encounters with girls at parties. This began to skew my view of what it meant to be in a relationship, and every relationship from 14 until today has been viewed through the lenses of addiction. At 17, my love for sports was nearly gone and my desire for education was snuffed out.
Marijuana and alcohol were my drugs of choice from age 14 until 16. Then, I was introduced to prescription pills, and at 17, I experienced my first overdose. I passed out in my parents’ home and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. I coded and almost didn’t make it. When I was 18, I joined the Army because I had been arrested a couple times and had zero direction and hoped this would give me the change I needed. And for 6 months I was sober for the first time in 4 years. Once I finished basic and AIT, I found the users very quickly and was turned onto amphetamines, cocaine, opium, hash, LSD or acid, shrooms and barbiturates.
I never was able to use recreationally. It was always to get “wasted”, sort of chasing that first high for the rest of my life. At 18, I was married to my high school sweetheart. It was a dysfunctional relationship from the start. I was controlling and abusive from the day we met. I had my first child Mark at 19 and my second child Heather at 20.
By 23, I would be separated from my first wife and divorced a year later. By then, I had been arrested multiple times for second and third degree assaults to engaging police in pursuit. And by the time I was 27, I had been arrested about 40 times, sentenced to six years in prison and having my second divorce. I met Claire who was separated from her husband at a car lot where I worked. She had two beautiful girls, but Claire was as much a mess as I was. She really needed a good guy for her and her children but she got me which is what she seemed to want. A bad guy, with no respect for himself never mind her or her children. Soon she would lose custody of those children as I would mine. She began working at a strip club as a bar tender and then dancing. Claire came from her own history of abuse, and the poor girl was stuck in a pattern of abuse for years after me. I remember living on the third floor of a house in Webster, Massachusetts and having nothing – a mattress on the floor, no real furniture to mention with Claire and me earning over $2,000 per week. Cocaine was our priority, and I soon lost partial custody of my children as well. We moved all over and caused a wake of destruction from Connecticut to Maine.
I will go through 13 short term treatment and psychiatric units, having been diagnosed with bi-polar and personality disorders. I was placed on Lithium and Librium as well as other anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, all the while self-medicating with a cocktail of other drugs causing me to become suicidal and providing a breeding ground for more overdoses.
At 28, in January of 1989, in an attempt to win back my second wife, I moved to Florida to reconnect. I again found the drug dealers. While there, I was in a fight that nearly killed me – left for dead on the floor. While in Florida, I was literally homeless and ate out of garbage cans and bathed in people’s pools.
It became really clear that my desire to reunite with my second wife would not be reciprocated, and, as a result, I began hunting for a place to live and found a girl at a bar who let me move in that day. After 2 months, I moved on to my present and last wife, Tammy. She was 19, and I was 28. Her mom and dad had taken a six month vacation since he had just retired from the Navy. They went to Harrodsburg, Kentucky to visit Tammy’s dad’s brother-in-law. So, I moved into their home to live with their daughter while they were gone. I had six months to find something better and move on because that was what I did.
Tammy was different than the other girls I’d been with. Most were bartenders or biker chicks. Tammy was very intelligent, and I considered sticking around because she was planning on being an accountant and that sounded like a good “wife” to have. I liked Tammy, but I didn’t love her. I didn’t love anyone or anything. An addict can’t. We are all very selfish and only see through the eyes of what we can get out of any situation or relationship. At that time, a free place to live, food, a car and a cute 19-year-old was working for me. By the time her parents moved back, we had enough money saved to move out to our own apartment, but that wouldn’t last long. I wrote a $10,000 check for cocaine to a large dealer, grabbed the product, sold some of it and did the rest. That check bounced so we had to move.
In August of 1989, Tammy and I headed for Connecticut. We do what we do! I had to separate Tammy from anyone she knew and loved her so I could control her. We packed up her little car and took what little cocaine I had left and we drove. We moved into my parents’ home until I could get a job and save money and then moved to our own apartment. We moved to Norwich, Connecticut.
In 1990, Tammy and I had our first daughter, Sydney, who was born premature. Tammy was two months early for her due date. All the while in the hospital, I had ounces of cocaine even at the birth of my daughter.
The same thing happened with my son Tyler born in 1992, also two months premature. That same year, Tammy had had enough of my addiction, abuse and conflict. She called her mom and dad, loaded up a Ryder truck and was heading for Kentucky with or without me.
At this point, I had been an addict for 17 years or over half my life and really couldn’t remember a sober life anymore. Addiction has a way of changing every aspect of you. It affects you emotionally, mentally, relationally, spiritually, financially and physically. It literally molests the human experience.
I’m sure to her disappointment; I decided to follow Tammy to Kentucky. I tried to stay clean even changing my career in hopes it would remove me from the overwhelming temptation. I found that no matter where I worked, I would find drugs. In Kentucky, I found the local pot dealer and began the journey of making the connections. In less than seven months in a new state, I found all the drugs I needed. I would end up $800,000.00 in debt and depressed beyond hope to the point of wanting to commit suicide again.
In December of 1992, I had gone back to selling cars, and the first thing the car lot did was run a credit check to verify I was who I said I was. Their motives weren’t pure. It was to make sure I wasn’t a “Narc”. I would soon be steeped in a major drug pipeline, and anything I wanted would be available to me. For the next seven years it wouldn’t be anything for me to snort an eight ball a day or more.
In 1996, God started working on me and started changing my heart. This would manifest in me having compassion for my clients at the car lot. I was general manager, and it was my job to maximize profits. On one particular case, I refused to forge a rebate contract and gave the rebate back to the customer instead of having it turned over to the dealer. This got me fired shortly after purchasing a brand new home in 1996.
In 1997, I would open up my own car lot with a partner, and M&M motors was born. We did well for a season but again my addiction would destroy it. Our first year we made a ton of money but by the third year we would be near bankrupt.
Between 1992 and 1999, Tammy would have the papers for divorce drawn up at least twice that I was aware of. I guess God had different plans. In January of 1999, my mom died and, in March and June, my grandmother and favorite uncle also died.
This is where the real story begins, and this is where God shows up and shows off.
I was always a functional addict so when not in jail, prison or rehab I was working.
In March of 1999, a man named Wayne Aldridge who was just released from North Point prison in Danville, Kentucky came to my business. He had completed his 10-year bid and was looking to make a new start for himself in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. He knew of one ex-offender in Harrodsburg and so he began to establish himself there. He began his new journey by getting an apartment with some money his mom had left him when she died. The next step was a car and that’s why he was coming to see me. I owned M& M auto sales in Harrodsburg, and for 90 straight days, Wayne would come by the car lot to tell me about this Jesus guy. Although I was raised Catholic, I never bought into the concept of religion nor was I ever indoctrinated into it.
It always seemed pretty lame. The weak man’s way. It was contrary to what I believed and that was science – that we all died and went into a hole called a grave and that was it.
Between March and June of 1999, he came to see me every day staying for hours or all day even coming to my home to tell me of this man, Jesus. He never asked what my life was about, my arrest record, my addiction, my divorces, my thoughts of suicide nor my debt.
I remember when seeing him down the road with the blinker on to turn into the car lot, I would run and hide to avoid the “Jesus freak”. One day I did what I do, and I sold him his car. I’ll never forget that day in June when he asked me to get in his car and set the clock for him, and when I got in, he locked the doors and asked if he could pray for me. That’s the day my life changed forever.
He asked me to pray with him and I did. In this prayer, I confessed my need for something greater than me. I confessed that Jesus was the son of God and that I needed Him in my life. I said this prayer a half dozen times before even to sell a car because the buyers wanted to buy from a believer. But this time was different. For the first time in my life I felt free, brand new like a 38-year-old baby. The aches and pains I was experiencing in my body disappeared. I felt at peace and an unexplainable peace came over me. Even though I had lost everything – my mom, grand mom, uncle, my third wife, Tammy who had filed divorce papers, and we were $800,000.00 in debt, I felt Joy and Peace. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever felt.
Over the next three days, I would tell no one of this “prayer” but anyone who knew me kept saying how I was “different” and “changed”, especially Tammy! I told her that the witch doctor Wayne had prayed for me and something happened – that I didn’t have any desire for cocaine or pills. My language changed and instead of every other word being a cuss word there was no cussing. My countenance had changed. There was a smile on my face and a calmness about me they had never seen.
It’s probably cliché but everything smelled better and everything looked better. I noticed things in this world I hadn’t seen before. And in three months, my wife would surrender her life to Christ along with my two youngest children, and in a year my mother and brother-in-law would as well.
My heart was immediately broken for the addict and destitute. I had been though all those treatment centers never being offered a chance because they were all secular and never mentioned spirituality. The spiritual piece was the most important piece. It is what all the other tools hinged off of, yet none of these rehabs had a spiritual component that was genuine. I never could get the “God of my own understanding” thing. My “Own” understanding was a mess, and I needed the “Real Deal”. After all, it was my best thinking that got me there.
Tammy and I would stay up until two or three in morning reading the Bible. We read through it in six months. At the beginning, I wasn’t delivered of everything. I still smoked marijuana, and we would sit up until the early morning hours smoking dope and reading scripture. And one day, I read about being sober-minded, and, by August, I would have been set free of all the drugs and alcohol. Tammy, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and was a guinea pig for new drugs, was also set free from taking those drugs for over two years.
In August 1999, I was walking downtown Danville and I noticed in the newspaper box a front page story of how this guy had been released from prison after serving his time of 20 years and was being ousted from his apartment because he was a convicted felon, a rapist. He also happened to be black and 6’5”. I felt overwhelming compassion for this man I had never met but my heart was crushed. He would have to return to prison unless someone helped him with a place to live.
Simultaneously Tammy had seen him on the news, and, when we came together that day, we both felt the need to help him out. The only way was to bring him into our home while we found him a place to live or he would go back to prison.
Nate was a quiet gentleman. In no way am I or would I condone what he was guilty of but nor could I condemn him because, according to scripture, I was as equally guilty if not more so. And if God could save a miserable wretch like me then there was hope for Nate. Come to find out Nate moved to Danville to be near his aging father and was a believer.
Tammy and I transformed our three-bedroom home with an office and a play room for our kids into a four-bedroom home and Nate moved in August 17, 1999 – a day I will never forget. Looking back we were rather naïve, not because of Nate and his history, but because of Christians. Tammy and I expected that believers would unite to assist this man and get him back on his feet again. After all Jesus was about restoration, resurrection and hope. Scripture was clear that all sin separated us from God and all were guilty. Although his sin and crime was particularly egregious to us, in God’s eyes we were pretty much all in the same boat.
The next day the word got out that we had a rapist living in our home with our children. Although Nate was not a pedophile, our neighborhood became extremely upset.
God rarely shows us the whole picture, and I’m glad He didn’t. By Christmas that year we would have 17 people living with us and would have built seven bedrooms in our basement as well as convert the kid’s playroom to a bedroom making nine bedrooms to house people in.
The neighborhood posted flyers on every tree, every post, and every light pole and anywhere they could with Nate’s picture, our address and names and a long legal sized complaint of why everyone should be in fear and why we should be drawn and quartered. And this was coming from professed believers!
We had Dateline, 20/20, Oprah, Queen Latifa, Matt Lauer and Katie Curic, Extra and a host of others trying to do interviews with us. AP news picked it up and did a story on us and we were in just about every newspaper in every state. Phone calls and letters of mostly threats came flooding in. Tammy and I began to doubt we had heard from God and were doing the right thing. Our families thought we were crazy and worst our children seven and eight had lost all their friends. No one wanted to stay over at our house, and no one wanted our kids to stay with them. Our neighbors were asking if they could shoot Nate if they saw him on their property. A local TV pastor made a comment on TV about us and said he had a solution for the situation in Danville and that was to round us all up, drag us to the county square and hang us……
It became clear that the church was not very compassionate and worse, its love had grown cold and faith was replaced by fear. The department of human services would actually show up at my children’s school and remove them from class to see if they should be removed from the home.
Whenever we went to the store, out to eat or driving, church people pointed at us, whispered and ignored us when spoken to.
Over the next two years, we would house over 250 men, women and children, only two of which were sex offenders. Many were just families down on their luck – pregnant women, deaf people and the most fun train hobos. Danville had very good train police, and they would capture them and bring them to us for a shower, hot meal and a bed.
Everyone was worried about their property values instead of hurting people. The funny thing was, after we investigated, we found the subdivision we lived in had two sex offenders living there but they just weren’t registered, and we had a major drug dealer in the subdivision as well.
The surrounding three or four counties had no shelters for a population of around 60,000 people. Even though many didn’t want us doing what we were doing, the system in place was unable to assist these people. So the police brought them to us, the hospital, the Salvation Army and by just word-of-mouth. Tammy and I just wanted to tell folks what Jesus had done for us, feed them, let them shower, clothe them and try and find them a job and a place.
Over the next two years, we would witness over 400 people who came to know Jesus as the Christ. We would be welcomed into our home church, Cornerstone Assembly of God, and have the privilege of being taught by our pastor, Tom Lane, who truly taught us who God was. We wore an aisle out to that alter three times every week with tears and prayers. That alter became a place of comfort to me in the years to come.
We also prayed over and anointed our home. One day I loaded a squirt gun with anointing oil and drove the neighborhood on my bike and anointed everyone’s property!
There were many town meetings – private and public. None allowing us to speak. We were in court from the very beginning with this; the Rutherford group took on our case as one of religious freedoms and liberty. And on Sept 11, 2001 – yep that was the date the twin towers were hit – we were sentenced.
During this time, we were able to pay off almost all our debt, but the burden of trying to take care of 17 people, whom we charged nothing, plus our 4 four was wearing heavy on us. It became very difficult for me to sell cars anymore. The interest rates were high. The cars were used. The publicity killed our business, and I just couldn’t lie anymore. So, we closed the car lot down in 2001, and I began washing windows for $20 per hour. Still this couldn’t support the growing ministry.
We were going to lose our home and that became clear. As a result of the towns concerns, our home was condemned, and I was convicted of running a half-way house without a license. Sentenced to two years’ probation and an $8,500 fine. I was also banned from housing people in Boyle County forever.
That was the plea deal we accepted. For the first time in my life I was arrested for doing something good – for helping people. No one said anything in our subdivision when we had dozens of friends over and the windows up with Marilyn Manson blaring out of them. No one said anything when we would have cocaine parties into the early hours of the am with naked people running outdoors. No one said anything with the screaming matches resonating out the doors between Tammy and myself.
With our home condemned and a plea deal offered, we along with the advice of our counsel decided to find all our guests places and shut it down. In July of 2001, our home was empty but the toll it took on our finances meant we were going to lose our home and it was auctioned off.
I believe that this last two years was a test our faith and resolve – not that God needed to know but we needed to prove to ourselves who we really were.
What we would see over the next 13 years would be miracle after miracle. I began to read books about George Mueller and Booth, Smith Wigglesworth and others. I was determined to be a man of prayer.
In late 2000, we knew our fate on Pecos Circle was fairly well sealed and so we began to pray diligently for a new location. We literally bombarded the gates of heaven with prayer, speaking life over this ministry and not death. Thirty days after our last guest left our home, our pastor received word from a couple in Maryland that owned property in Lincoln County, Kentucky. It was in Hustonville to be exact with no planning and zoning, no land use restrictions, three miles down a single lane road and three quarters of a mile down a gravel driveway. There sat a 6,500 sq. ft. potential 20-bed home we could have if we agreed to run ministry out of it for 10 years. The Isaacs had tried on multiple occasions to give away this 170-year-old beauty to no avail. Churches didn’t want it, ministries didn’t want it and civic groups didn’t want it. That’s because it was ours from the beginning. And on November, 17, 2001, having only met the previous owners at the closing, my family and I moved into what would be named the Isaiah House. I was excited at this new move and the potential to help more people unencumbered. We moved in with no commitment of support just earning my wife’s disability check and a small residual from our car lot. We moved the kids out of their school into a new one where they were more easily accepted. The kids from church were allowed to come over and play with our kids and they could go there.
Everything had changed for us. Our old friends wanted nothing to do with our new found religion but things were ok. We were making new friends. Isaiah House was named after Isaiah 58.
“Cry aloud, spare not;
Lift up your voice like a trumpet;
Tell My people their transgression,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of me the ordinances of justice;
they take delight in approaching God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’
“In fact, in the day of Your fast You find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
5 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the Lord?
6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
13 “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
14 Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The promises in this scripture took on a life of their own. They infused life into me. And as a result of that scripture, Isaiah House was officially born on Nov 17, 2001.
Again nativity was a killer. Tammy and I assumed that now the church would respond – here was this miracle of a $300,000 property donated free of charge. We felt with the hundred plus churches in the four surrounding counties, we could raise the needed funding to feed, clothe, house, transport our 20 guests. We needed about $12,000 per month to accomplish that task including electric, water, food, insurance (car and property), gas, upkeep and a small recompense for Tammy and myself of about $2,000 per month, but that wouldn’t happen for five years.
Cornerstone paid our insurance and water bills. But all the other expenses were left to us to fund raise. I remember having 24 in the house to feed and by the 10th of the month being out of money and no food. Tammy and I would go to our office and cry out to the Lord, holding hands and kneeling on the floor with Tammy’s tears hitting our hands as we prayed for God to respond.
For the next 6 years it would be that way every day. Never more but just enough, never early but always on time.
That April, I was offered a job in the US Post Office, my dream job with benefits, $16.08 an hour to start and 40 hours per week. I had applied a year earlier, took the test and with my previous military, scored well and could have added to my retirement time from the years of service in the military. We had been five months without a check and no check in sight to pay us. Again Tammy and I went to prayer and as much as we wanted that job we just couldn’t get peace about it. I wrestled and argued with God on this point for several days only to keep hearing no. So we made the decision to commit to the work at hand and that God would have to meet our every need, and we passed on that job.
On occasion after occasion, stories like this would happen. I would get a phone call from an acquaintance saying that God had put us on their heart and they wanted to take my family out to eat. On one particular occasion this is what happened: I told our friend that we had 24 to feed and that if we went they would have to join us. He said he would have to ask his wife because that was more than they had anticipated and call me back. Thirty minutes later, we got a call back saying that they would like to take us all out to Giovanni’s for pizza. We arrive at the restaurant to be given a check for $1,000 and come home to a stairway full of food with a note saying that the Lord had laid us on their hearts and they went and bought us groceries. I get to the answering machine to check the phone to hear a message saying that the Lord had put us on their heart and that there was a check in the door pocket of an open van that we had. This literally went on that way for years. Day after day and month after month similar stories of God’s provision. One day our septic system failed and God’s provision gave us a new one. The HVAC units went and God provided. We needed vehicles to get our guests to and from doctors, court, work and church and God provided. We were driving half a million miles per year and needed gas and God provided.
The first year in 2002, we housed 50 men on $18,000 at the Isaiah House; the second year 2003, 50 men on $31,000. Tammy and I were working literally 100 plus hours per week with no pay, but we had no bills and our children always had clothes and we always had a full belly. Isaiah House never went into debt. Everything we needed was petitioned through prayer and acquaintances God answered. We never advertised, and we found ourselves full even getting people from all over the country referred to us as a result of some of the miracles of lives transformed who spread the message by word-of-mouth.
In 2003, our focus began to shift to dealing with why our guests were homeless – issues like mental health, education and addiction. Being in many rehabs myself, I knew what I wanted to keep out from those experiences but also knew what we needed that our guests lacked. We needed counselors, but knew we just couldn’t afford them yet so we focused on case management and discipleship. Being a member at an Assembly of God church, I was aware of Teen Challenge and it just so happened we had a regional director in Louisville that our pastor knew well. A meeting was held, and we soon added Skip Arp to our board of directors.
The transformation from a homeless shelter to a treatment center was difficult. With homeless shelters, there is little to no expectations of certain services such as one-on-one clinical counseling. But with clinicians going for $15 an hour and up, we knew that was something that would have to be on our wish list. When we began, we always wanted to excel in whatever we did because we represented Jesus. So the goal always was and always will be to be better tomorrow than we are today at what we do.
We were able to hire an office/kitchen manager for $50 per week. Michael had a heart to serve. Even though Tammy and I weren’t getting paid, the Lord had supported and provided for us until now we had no reason to assume He wouldn’t in the future. We developed a program based loosely upon the program at Teen Challenge. Basically, we adopted their schedule for the day, most of which we were already doing: up at 6 am, walk a mile, meds, devotional, breakfast and chores done by 9 am; discipleship (structured studies) and praise and worship until noon; lunch, work on the facility or outside (at that time we had started picking up trash for the county for $100 per mile and cutting wood to sell firewood as a fund raiser.); 1-4 pm work on property and 5 pm supper and 6-9pm more structured Bible studies.
So in 2004, we were officially a treatment center without the licensure – no clinicians and no license.
By the end of 2004, the Acton Institute named us one of Kentucky’s best and most effective ministries and again in 2005 and in 2006 one of the best in the country.
The long hours and no family time with no pay began to wear on Tammy. And in 2004, she left me to go live with her parents and taking the kids. She had been a widow to addiction and now she was a widow to ministry. God and I became very intimate during this time. Daily tears from both Tammy and me, confusion, anger were all words we were using. I would wrestle with God daily for the time and finances to provide a place for my family.
In 2004, our income would hit $44,000. We still weren’t charging anything for our services, and we were able to hire an assistant director Lloyd Turgeua, a 60-year-old Marine from Louisiana with a New Jersey accent. He was led by the Lord to Kentucky to serve and when he heard about us he knew this is where God wanted him. So Lloyd agreed to work for $200 per week three full days of 24 hours, leaving me four full days of 24 hours.
So we had three employees collectively making $450 per week. We had seen so many lives transformed; deliverances taking place. Slowly and overtime disciples being made.
In 2005, our income jumped to $64,000 as we started to charge $180 per month for our services.
And our guests weren’t asked to get jobs before 60 days of discipleship. We were able to hire an admissions person for $200 per week, pay Michael $200 per week and Lloyd $300 and me $400.
It was amazing to see how broken vessels like ourselves could minister to broken vessels like our guests, but even more amazing was the transformations taking place in us as we were taught by those God had sent us as guests – a journey we all are still on. In 2006, because of the word on the streets that God was at Isaiah House and lives were being transformed and relationships restored, a drug task force agency in eastern Kentucky heard of us. It was part of Hal Rogers voucher program to pay for treatment for their residents. They would pay $5,000 for six months of treatment, giving the client a choice of where to go either secular or faith-based. Many had tried the short-term secular programs to no avail and ours was a 12-month program where real change could take place.
In 2006, our income jumped to $148,000 and we were always full with a waiting list. So we hired our first clinician, Dr. Larry Thompson. Larry was a licensed pastoral counselor with a doctorate who was a recovering alcoholic. He had just lost his wife and God had put us in each other’s path years ago for such a time as this. Larry had an office in a bigger closet of the house. But Larry was a retired Navy deep sea diver as well and fairly good sized so, as good sized as the closet was, it was a tight fit and many relationships were forged in that closet. Larry was also Tammy and my marriage counselor in 2004 as we worked to restore our marriage. Also that year, we were able to rent our home and Tammy started doing our books at the church which was our 501(c)(3) covering.
So we had me as director, Lloyd as assistant director, Mike as office manager/cook, Amanda as Admissions, Dr. Larry as our counselor, and we had several of our older clients as house managers. Still the daunting task of taking care of everyone’s medical, mental and physical health, legal, educational and job issues was a daunting task. It seemed as though the more folks we had to work, the more work we did and that’s just what we did. The promise we made to be the best was being upheld. As we were able to hire, we added services.
Feeding 20 people a day three hot meals, preparing lunch for them at work, getting them their GEDS, taking them to work and picking them up, bringing them to doctors and church – it really just never ended. So even though we now had a staff, we were all working way over a normal week, some of us 80 plus hours.
In 2007, we raised our fees to $300 per week. And as word got out even greater, more and more people came to the Isaiah House. We had served every county in Kentucky and were getting people from Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, Alaska, Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts.
In January of 2007, a friend and mentor to me was Joe Niekirk. I met Joe around 2003. Joe was a recovering addict who had overcome his addiction with a miraculous appointment with Jesus. Joe had also assistant pastored a large Methodist church in Indiana, and was very knowledgeable of the addiction people in the state. Joe had introduced us to Operation Unite and many others whose contacts were valuable to say the least. Joe had always said I was his hero but he was mine as well. Joe asked me to pray about a new center for Isaiah House to open – a larger center with room to grow as we were land-locked with no room to add on in our current location and a large waiting list. So Joe took me out to Willisburg, Kentucky.
Willisburg is just about as far out in the boonies as Hustonville. There was a 72-bed 36,000 sq. ft. $1.2 million facility coming available with the current occupant, a youth treatment center, was closing its doors. To make a long story short, I wasn’t pleased. First Tammy and I had only been restored to each other for two years, and I knew the cost to my family would be tremendous to birth another ministry. Second they wanted $1.2 million and we just started getting paid every week at $400 per week. Life was fairly good and uncomplicated. Third, it would take an enormous amount of resources in man hours and money to run such a center. But I recalled earlier in 2006, the Lord had given me a vision for a 50-bed center with a $1.5 million operating budget that I had drawn out and planned.
Joe asked me to pray about this center, and I told him I would not. But I had promised God that if He opened a door, I would go through it. I remembered the vision and details He had given me a year earlier so we committed to prayer.
In October, I got a phone call from another mentor of mine, Jack Coleman. Jack was a former state representative in Mercer County Kentucky and had taken a keen interest in what Isaiah House was doing. Having been praying as prompted for the new facility, I had all together forgotten about the Willisburg property. But today was going to be a reminder for me to keep praying. Jack was contacting me to let me know that we were in the running along with two other ministries to get the facility donated. Wow! Now God had my attention. We hadn’t even met the owners of the property yet God got us in front of them for this consideration. In November, I received another call from Jack and he asked if I was sitting down, and I told him I can. That’s when he informed me that the owners of the property had decided to donate it to Isaiah House. A $1.2 million, 36,000 sq. ft. 72-bed center with eight acres of land, a gym and a ball field.
I remember feeling numb, crying and being a bit frightened. God was showing himself to me in ways I was in awe of. I can’t tell you of the hours on my knees, sitting on the porch or walking up and down that gravel road with the cows talking and singing to God. I felt like the children of Israel in the time of Moses where God was coming down to fellowship and talk with us. It truly felt like Holy ground.
Here I was an agnostic/atheist, bad Catholic, drug addict, looser from Connecticut and surely the foolish among men and yet the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was showing me favor. I once had a pastor lay hands on me, Pastor Ben Carter, and tell me, “LaPalme, God is going to use you in spite of you”.
Neither I nor my board had even had any contact with the owners until the day of turning over the deed on December 30, 2007. In November, I was given a set of keys by the custodian in order to pray, anoint, clean and inventory what items we would need to facilitate the move.
I stayed there for many nights just weeping as I walked the halls praying. I was very concerned that we would not be able to furnish this place – 36 bunk beds, 72 mattresses, dressers, night stands, file cabinets, desks, chairs, computers, copy machines, towels, bedding and kitchen equipment. So I was brought to Gideon and did what he did – I placed a fleece for a sign. At the property were all the things we needed. It was previously a youth treatment center and the owners were selling everything on eBay or Craig’s List.
I called the owners’ secretary and asked if we could be given three days in order to do an inventory on the items and try to raise the funds to purchase them ourselves as opposed to selling them the way they were. I figured if we could buy them 10 cents on the dollar, we may be able to do something. The inventory amounted to over $250,000 worth of items, which meant we would need to raise at least $250,000 in three days. On the third day, I called the secretary back and was informed that the owners had decided to donate the entire inventory as well to Isaiah House. My answer had come. God couldn’t be any clearer that this was our place. As a Bible believer, I had learned enough to know that when God tells you to possess the land, you don’t wait and loom at the giants who possess it. So we took official ownership on December 30, 2007 in addition to ending our best year financially at over $249,000 in revenue.
The move was going to be difficult. Anytime you birth a ministry it’s extremely hard – emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. Doubt and unbelief enters in. Did I really hear from God? Did I manipulate things to go the way I wanted them to go? Did He bring us out here to kill us? Half our board of directors quit because it was 45 miles further from where we were. Half our donors quit. Half our staff would quit before the end of the first month, and half our clients walked off when we moved January 1, 2008.
I was broken again, back to working 100 hours per week, staying overnight and weekends, wondering if I was hearing from God, right after the clear voice, right after the clear move of God and right after knowing that I had heard, I wasn’t sure if I had any more fight in me. I didn’t, and I realized I must rely on His Mercy and Grace to get me through or else I might relapse.
In March 2008, I had to have neck surgery. I was experiencing pain and numbness in my right arm and shoulder. After much prayer, we decided to have the surgery but I would be out of work for six weeks. I wasn’t able to get any sleep or comfort and felt that taking care of this now would make the plowing of a new ministry more tolerable. I had my surgery at the VA in Lexington, Kentucky. I told everyone about my issues with addiction, and that I wanted no narcotics after waking up. The procedure was a fairly easy one but would require pain medication. They would fuse a cadaver bone in my spine and put in a plate and screws.
But, there was no way I was going back to active usage ever again. So, as soon as the surgery was over and I awoke, the nurse was there with two Lortabs. Yep, that’s right. The enemy was right there to trip me up. Thank God for the Grace to overcome the temptations of the enemy. I was rather angry and asked if they read my charts. No one ever even noted it that I was a recovering addict and had requested no narcotics. It took them another four hours to get me an ibuprofen. During that time, I found great solace in the Proverbs and Psalms of my God. I was up and out the next day and back to work on a part-time basis the first week with just prayer and ibuprofen.
And by week four, I was back full time. I had no idea how the move would affect us financially but it wasn’t just the move. It was the collapse of the economy. Moving from a 6,500 sq. ft. home to a 36,000 sq. ft. facility, I needed the income to go up not down. Our insurance bill quadrupled. Our electric bill was $5000 to $6000 per month. Our gas bill rose because we were further away from the jobs for the clients that we had. We needed more staff to man the center. Never mind we needed more vehicles and the building had some upkeep that was much needed.
So the economy tanks, and then those that had jobs in the temp services lost them and getting jobs for men in rehab wasn’t an easy thing. We were competing for entry level factory jobs with clean record, college educated, and non-addicted people. Also, all our contacts for jobs were 35 miles north east of our new center, leaving us struggling for much needed revenue.
In 2002, I met Randy Attkisson. Randy was a former banking commissioner for the state of Kentucky and a founder of a local bank and was interested in what we were doing. Randy on occasion would come by to talk and pour some wisdom into me in order to help us grow. Soon Randy would become a mentor and much later board chair. Randy always used the opportunity with me to discuss viability and sustainability and what that could look like for us. He would preach to me that the model of a handout was tired and worn out, and that we had natural talents and resources that we could avail ourselves to and try and generate income for our clients as well as the program.
We were already doing the trash pick-up for $40 per mile for 400 miles in Washington County and the firewood sales. Our talent pool was full of painters, dry wallers, framers, plumbers, electricians, contractors, construction and so on. So in 2003, we began to pray for a source that would allow us to do work either on site and renovation opportunities. In 2008, the economy tanked yet our income actually went up for that year, but it didn’t go up enough to sustain the program the way it needed nor I wanted it to. We ended 2008 with an income of $300,361.
The year 2009 started off very rough. I was tired from the long hours and not seeing my family coupled with the inability to maintain staff based upon the fact that we were unable to make payroll every week in 2008 and 2009. Our staff missed upwards of 20 to 30 checks each. The staff that we had were extremely dedicated and all put in more than I could ever ask for. I know they did it for God and the understanding that this ministry was making a difference in people’s lives every day.
If I had my choice I would have skipped year one, three and years 2009 and 10. I often contemplated as the Israelites had “did you bring me out here to kill me?” Depression had set in and even thoughts of using again. In 2009, we would lose my office manager /kitchen supervisor who had been with me for years. Our income for the year would fall to $263,000.00, a drop of over $37,000. It soon was left to me again. All my staff and board members were wearied of the walk. I, on the other hand, didn’t have any other options. This is what God gave me to do, and I hadn’t heard anything else from Him to change course. Scripture like, “Don’t grow weary in well doing” and “The end of a thing is better than the beginning” ran through my mind. Donors were dropping out, staff and board members quitting, and we were even experiencing a drop in calls for placement. Closing the doors looked like it was going to be necessary, and it seemed like all our praying was falling on deaf ears.
I mentioned earlier that He’s always on time and never early. I think He likes it that way to keep us on our knees. The prayers about sustainability and viability were being answered and in crazy, cool ways. A local factory, Inoac, called us and asked if we would be interested in doing some seconds work for them. It would involve head rests; arm rests and funnels for blow mold injection. We were to remove the cloth or leather from the metal stays of the headrest and the cloth or leather from the metal mechanisms in the arm rests and for the funnels, we just had to clean out the injection material from each funnel. They gave us a box of each and wanted us to propose a bid. We took those boxes and worked them and came up with a bid and we won that bid on all of them. We would receive tractor trailer loads of them. This was a win-win for our company, our clients and us. We would do our normal program of recovery from nine to noon and after lunch give our clients the opportunity to earn minimum wage to pay off court fines, child support, and probation and parole fees, send money home, start a savings account and so on as well as pay Isaiah House about $100 per week in fees each.
It took about a month, but we were doing 2,000 pieces per day and 8,000 funnels per day generating approximately $1300 per day in revenue. Along with that, there were several recycling opportunities that presented themselves from those jobs like unwanted pallets, plastics and material that generated a gross revenue over $1,400 per day. That year we would hire a little over 100 of our clients throughout the year. We would pay matching taxes, workers comp and minimum wage. As a result of that, we also weren’t driving as much because all employment was in house which saved us driver time, gas and wear and tear. In 2010, we would generate income of $463,000. God was showing up and showing off on our behalf again.
We had never even met the people at Inoac until we picked up the items for bid. Not once did we approach them prior to them approaching us. We still have a strong relationship with that company to this day. This enabled us to hire an assistant director, case manager, case workers, kitchen help and a LCSW CADC. For the first time we would have a licensed clinical counselor and this would set us on the path to state licensure which had been a goal since day one. So in October 2010, we would apply for licensure, and in November 2010, we would become the first state licensed Christ-centered treatment center in the state. At that point, we would manage eight percent of Kentucky’s licensed beds. Little did we know that the enemy was lurking and a huge blow was coming our way! Third day has a song that goes like this, “I must go thru the valley to stand upon the mountain of God”, and another valley was coming.
On March 11, 2011, a natural disaster happened in Fukushima. One would think that would not have an effect on a treatment center in Kentucky but it did and it was profound. The day after the earthquake and tsunami our partner Inoac experienced a massive shut down. Because this was a Japanese-based company, parts were unavailable and layoffs would commence at the local plant. Over the course of the next three years, we would maintain that relationship with Inoac, but the downtime allowed them to retool, and we would not get up to our 2010 numbers. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 we would get approximately $200 per day, and we would lose the funnel contract bringing us down to about $700 per week.
This forced us to look elsewhere again but our response to the problem would not be quick enough for us to not experience more hardship. The finances obviously would soon take a hit and we would have to look at asking staff to either take half pay or volunteer until we could come up with an answer.
Keep in mind all the while we would never have a lapse in services, and we would still have a success rate of 67% clean and sober after five years as well as having 78% of our clients not reoffend with the law again. We would be working harder with less to be the best that we could be. Soon our licensed counselor would quit and so would several others of our key staff. But God sent us more to fill in and take their place even knowing of the struggles we would have. We were able to acquire a licensed pastoral counselor who kept our clinical end going and maintain our case management with a few tweaks.
We were blessed to have a few of our normal areas of opportunity to still be hitting, and in 2011 we would end with $629,000 in income. Most of that money was spent on upgrades to a hurting facility, food, and gas and vehicle maintenance. We would make some adjustment to our fee schedule and word was getting out that our rehab was the place to go if you wanted real help. Our clients’ lives were being restored to God and their families and they were graduating treatment with $2,000 to $4,000 in their pockets in order to get a car and an apartment to start a new life.
In 2011, we would receive one of those God calls – not us searching but God answering. We were receiving calls from places like Kingdom promotions and Can Do. These were event planners and did things like clean up stadiums or run security. Soon we were cleaning up Papa John’s stadium, Commonwealth stadium, Kentucky Speedway, Bristol Speedway and others. These events raise about $50,000 per year for Isaiah House. These are relationships that we still have today as well as with Axis Security.
In July of 2011, I noticed two men in our ball field staking it off. I found that to be odd and asked if we had called anyone to do a site survey. No one had so I went outside and asked the guys what they were doing. See, there was a beautiful home behind us on its own plat of land – 2,500 sq. ft. three- bedroom $300,000 home. When the donors of the Isaiah House made their donation they kept a right of way to that house, and that right away went through our ball field. The ball field was a wonderful outlet for the men and great therapy. We just couldn’t lose that. I can’t recall where God’s people in scripture were to give back ground they were given.
So here we were three years after moving in, we were being informed that the owners of the home wanted to sell it and felt that installing its own driveway would bring it more value and help the house sell quicker. So, I contacted the owners and asked what they wanted for the property and they were asking $350,000.
Years ago when we moved into the main facility we began praying for that house. We needed to open a center for women, preferably the wives of the men in our treatment center. Our goal was to get the whole family well again. We anointed that property and prayed over it every day, asking God to give us that property.
We were going to see God move again in an amazing way for this ministry. I made a few phone calls to see if it were possible for us to raise the money needed to buy the property but that wasn’t how God wanted to show up and show off. After three days, I called the owners and told them we weren’t able to raise the money. That’s when they told me that if we could get a $350,000 appraisal on the property, they would just donate the property to us.
So, I began the process for appraisal and was disappointed after a few attempts that we would not reach that goal, but we did reach a $325,000 appraisal. I called the owners and they agreed to donate it to us on that appraisal. It’s just incredible what God will and can do. Isaiah House had been faithful with the little, and God is always faithful even when we aren’t. On November 17th, we were informed we would get the property and closed the deal December 30, 2011.
Then began the process of prayer and more anointing of the property and search for staff for the women’s center that was soon to open. We had a guy in our program that had been with us for about four months. He was doing well except for his wife was out ripping and running, and it was a huge distraction for him. He was fearful she would overdose and die and they had two beautiful children.
Over the next few months from November through March 2012, we put together a team of women to staff the facility but we had no furniture or vehicles. In March, our men’s client found his wife and called me asking if we could make his wife the first women’s client. We had nothing in place yet. In January, we had an open house to try and generate some interest but nothing had come of it. I was hoping the church would wrap its arms around a women’s center a little more than the men’s but that didn’t appear to be something that would happen. From November to March, we would raise about $200 per month guaranteed from churches, just not enough to open on. But, God wants us to operate on faith not fear or man’s commitments. The opportunity had arisen to help someone and maybe change a life and the lives of a whole family so we opened. In March of 2012, we would get some air mattresses, buy some food, made a commitment to our women’s director and open. So we did. We took her in and began the process of reintroducing her to Jesus, getting her the counseling she needed and soon she was on her way to being made whole.
Soon, our board chair would be in a horrible wreck, almost taking his life. We would be without our leader and covering for months. Greg Bowen was an integral part of our everyday ministry, not just as board chair but volunteering and fundraising.
2012 a year of shaking.
In 2012, more ground for the Kingdom would be acquired but more hits personally would be taken. In May of 2012, I would get our mail like any other day and I would collect the checks and get them to Tammy in bookkeeping. I opened a letter and saw what I thought to be a $200 check and set it aside to open more mail. I first noticed the address on the check. It was from Louisiana. Knowing only my former assistant director in Louisiana, I looked to see if it was from them or a family member. Then I noticed the amount of the check. It was actually $2,000, no $20,000, no it was for $200,000. Yep that’s right – $200,000!
It was funny that year in January we had set up a prayer team to pray every day at the start of the day. I wanted to challenge our staff to ask God for the ridiculous. We started praying for our clients, their families, Inoac, our donors, our board, the court system, our staff and specifically that the Lord would put it on the heart of someone we didn’t even know to donate a large amount of money. To this date, we aren’t sure why that person did what she did. We had tried to make contact several times to no avail whether by phone or letter. The following year we would receive knit winter toboggans from her as well.
The day we received the check we had a couple pastors over, Brad King, a dear friend for a long time, and a new pastor to us, Wayne Spivey. We did our normal tour and then we sat down to talk about the great needs we had and how large the work was that we were doing. We were reaching every Kentucky County and almost every state in the union. Those pastors prayed for a financial breakthrough and we then left each other to fellowship with the other staff and clients. That’s when I went to open the mail. That was the largest one-time cash donation we had ever received, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
In 2012, our income would hit $886,000, and we would be on our way to looking at the country’s highest standards of accreditation JACHO.
In July of 2012, we were blessed with a grant for board development training through Ministry Ventures out of Atlanta, Georgia. They assisted us in redesigning our board and this would be a grueling, arduous but much needed process over the next two years. We would acquire some of the finest business people in the state to be connected to our board of directors. They would set into motion a process of setting up internal and external audits and controls, much needed policies and procedures and set us on a path to design a model for treatment that could be taken anywhere.
In 2013, we would again be challenged financially, having to go to half pay for all staff and struggle so much for the first half of the year that we had to let go of our top leadership in the staff – our director and house manager, two of our highest paid people and people that had been with me a long time, would be dismissed so we could keep the doors open. New levels – new devils. The first half of the year was so trying for me personally with the dismissal of the men that had served with me in this battle to the new board who wanted me to move faster than I could. I soon found myself wrestling with God again.
Back in 2010, we began a process of trying to bill insurance for treatment. These processes would be hindered time and time again. The only way to be approved to bill for treatment was to have the very expensive credentials and titles after someone’s name on your counseling team. That left us to abandon the pastoral counseling modality we were accustomed to in order to find needles in haystacks – Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Licensed Clinical Associates and CADCs.
In 2011, we hired on a part time basis a beautiful lady named Patricia Miller. She would work under our pastoral counselor even though she would be an LPCC and really at the top of the food chain as far as licensure goes right under a psychiatrist. Patricia would travel three hours every day on her motorcycle from eastern Kentucky three or four days per week to counsel our men. She was the gateway that the Lord would use to open the financial door of insurance for us. Soon she would also be working for half pay. Our pastoral counselor had agreed to work for no pay and step aside as director in order for Patricia to lead the future clinical team. In October 2013, we would collect our first insurance check for $88,000 and by the end of the year we would pay back all the staff that had sacrificed to keep these hallowed doors open one more time. We would end up 2013 hitting the $1,000,000 income mark with all of our bills paid.
2014 started off exciting. Insurance billing was flowing. We hired a biller/coder, a grant writer and six clinicians as well as an assistant to help keep paper work in order. We received our state licensure for intensive outpatient treatment. We hired a nurse practitioner who had been volunteering sacrificially at Isaiah House every week. And thus begins the final push for the nation’s highest standard of accreditation with JACHO.
In May of 2014, the Lord would give us another job blessing. To keep our clients employed is crucial to their sobriety. We had INOAC, pallet making, trash pickup, fire wood sales, a small renovation crew, event clean up at Commonwealth stadium, Papa John’s stadium, Bristol Speedway and Kentucky Speedway and Amish school kids pick up. Now we were being linked with Ross and Ross, a recycling company of automotive computer parts. We would begin to have access to over 1,000 pieces per week where we would earn $300 to $400 per week separating the batteries, copper, gold, platinum, plastic and other metals. They would be so happy with our work that they would soon increase these amounts over the year.
Another way God showed favor on us was linking us with Hard Kore property preservation out of Las Vegas, Nevada. They maintained hundreds of bankruptcy homes in Kentucky. We would pick up that contract, which allowed us to hire another 9-12 men either from the program or who had graduated the program, generating over $2,000 per week in revenue.
But our enemy knows no bounds. Our former board chair, who was still recovering from the bad wreck he had in the previous year, would now be diagnosed with cancer. One of our staff would lose two pregnancies, and our house manager would almost die from bleeding ulcers, In August, we would lose our dear Patricia Miller Jarboe to cancer.
Our current staff of 50 men and women are the most dedicated group of people one would ever have the opportunity to work with. We are open and have been open 24 hours per day 365 days per year for 15 years now. Thirty of those 50 staff are graduates or former clients. Nine of those 30 would go on to marry and six would purchase their own homes.
I’ve seen miracle after miracle of bondages broken, people restored to God and each other. Bodies and minds healed. Frankly, if I were to put it all in writing, a book couldn’t contain it.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but for today I do not pursue happiness for it is fleeting. Today, I seek Joy which is eternal, Peace which only comes through a relationship with Messiah Yeshua and contentment wherever I’m at. Today, all my children are born again and healthy. Today, all my grandchildren are either born again as individuals or are covered under the blood that is on their homes and healthy. If for some reason that were to change my prayer is that God would give me the grace to say as Job said, ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away blessed be the Name of Adonai’ and ‘I know that my redeemer lives’.
I want to thank on this journey:
God the Father who is one with the Son and Spirit
Wayne Aldridge who took the time to lead me to the Christ
Tammy who did what no other woman could or would do
My children, Mark Jr, Heather, Sydney and Tyler who all never really had a dad but love me anyway.
My Parents and Family
My in-laws Marge and Lee Anderson for loving me
Pastor Tom Lane for investing and imparting into me
Cornerstone Assembly of God and its members
Lloyd and Vickie Turgeau
Don Mc Kewan
Pastor Brad King
Pastor John Kessle
Mercer County Ministerial Association