When Luke Tomsha addressed La Salle City Council in April, he faced a daunting challenge.
Tomsha was not used to speaking in public and figured a small crowd at a nighttime government meeting would be good practice.
It so happened he chose a night when, unbeknownst to him, people packed the council chambers for about La Salle's police dogs. Tomsha spoke for a few minutes about his new foundation, Perfectly Flawed.
"I get really nervous," he said.
Tomsha, 39, of La Salle has worked in information technology and at his family's restaurant in Spring Valley.
He also has 14 years of experience as a heroin addict.
"What we've done these past decades to combat substance abuse has been somewhat ineffective," Tomsha said. "I feel there are certain disconnects we need to focus on such as really getting to the root of why so many people are abusing drugs rather than just trying to stem the demand."
Tomsha's recovery began more than a year ago. He attended a rehab clinic. Last year he started an online blog, Perfectly Flawed, making public his addiction and recovery.
"I almost feel this duty to share my experiences," he said.
Tomsha applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and was approved in March. His blog became a charitable foundation www.perfectlyflawed.org to help children and adults affected by substance abuse.
"I was always planning on finding ways to give back," he said.
He began with $11,000 in donations, including one for $6,000, and hopes to receive grants. Tomsha said he is aware some might be reluctant to support a foundation managed by a former addict. So, funds will be managed by a finance committee of local leaders and business owners, he said.
"I want there to be some kind of accountability," he said. "I'm looking forward to putting this into action. I'm also an ex-substance abuser so people who don't know me, they have to realize they're not just giving money to support my living."
Tomsha hopes to provide make-a-wish-style giving to children affected by drug addiction.
"We're going to be working with the schools and police to help identify some of these children who could use an extra boost," he said.
Tomsha wants to fund community projects. He held an Earth Day cleanup in April in Utica. The second event will be a fundraising auction in November.
He wants the foundation to award scholarships to individuals and help pay for an addict to attend rehab, he said.
"We want to find someone who does want to improve," Tomsha said. "Tell us what you can give back to your local community."
Volunteering will be encouraged, he said.
"We have to find ways to reintroduce people back into society," Tomsha said. "These children, they're going to grow up 20 years from now and they're going to be in our communities."
To help organize the auction, Tomsha assembled a committee.
"I was fortunate to have people help me with that," he said.
Help came from Lori Christopherson of La Salle. Christopherson worked for March of Dimes for 33 years. For 13 years, Tomsha served on the March of Dimes chef's auction committee.
"Luke has a passion for what he's doing," Christopherson said. "He wants to be available with resources for those that want help. Substance abuse has touched my life and I believe there's a very strong need for this program in this community. As Luke always says, our community is like our family and we need to be there for our family."
Help also came from Mary Jane Marini of Spring Valley, a member of the Bureau County board, a retired teacher and a friend of Tomsha's family.
"I am really excited about this," she said. "As his project evolved, it never left children. He approached me to be involved and I was thankful to do anything I could. Luke is all about giving back right now."
Rehab staff taught Tomsha that addiction is a behavior and the result of poor choices, he said.
"They don't believe that you are broken," he said. "They don't believe you have to hide from this debilitating disease your whole life. What they talk about is managing levels of personal happiness."
Happiness can be broken down to short term and long term, he said.
"Your short-term happiness is happiness like shopping, drugs, gambling, sex, booze, food," Tomsha said.
Gambling every day is abusive, but an annual trip to Las Vegas is more manageable, Tomsha said. Long-term happiness might come from achieving a goal, like Perfectly Flawed, he said.
"I don't get that immediate gratification from it, but it holds more gratification in my life," he said. "You have to moderate that because people inherently are going to do what makes them happy."
Tomsha opens up a mind-mapping computer program, which illustrates his ideas linked together like branches on a tree. Tomsha said the foundation is the best job he has ever had.
"I could probably get back into information technology and I could probably make eighty to 90,000 dollars, but it's a career that I don't enjoy," he said. "This is more purpose-driven and it gives me satisfaction. That's very important. My whole journey is being involved with something that gives me purpose."
Source: (LaSalle) News-Tribune, http://bit.ly/2qoFZ86
This story has been corrected to indicate that the Earth Day cleanup took place in April, not on Saturday.
Information from: News-Tribune, http://www.newstrib.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the (LaSalle) News-Tribune.