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Help on the road to sobriety

Debbie Coleman-Topi Special to The Examiner

Television newscaster Lara Moritz was raised by an alcoholic father and pledged to herself as a teenager never to subject her family to the heartache that accompanies addiction.

But, Moritz, a longtime newscaster at KMBC-TV Channel 9, did in fact become an alcoholic and hit rock bottom when her son pushed her away after a winning basketball game, rejecting her congratulatory words due to the smell of alcohol on her breath.

“History repeated itself,” she said while sharing her story during an online presentation Tuesday evening.

“Everybody saw it, and everybody knew it,” she said.

Moritz, who spent years binge drinking evenings and weekends and going to work hung over, finally found help in a residential treatment program and shared her story as the first speaker of a new platform designed to raise funds for and awareness of an international addiction recovery program.

The award-winning journalist shared her experiences during an online event called GRACE Speaks, a program of In the Name of GRACE (Giving Recovering Addicts a Chance to Evolve). The nonprofit supports Oxford House, an international program that provides residential recovery for substance and alcohol addicts.

Oxford House opened a new home, its first in Eastern Jackson County, this past February and soon after opened a house in northern Lee’s Summit. Fifteen houses currently operate in the Kansas City area and include homes for women, men and women and children, In the Name of GRACE Board President and co-founder Rob Elsey said at the beginning of Tuesday’s webinar. The group is on track to meet its goal of 20 houses in the Kansas City area by the end of 2020, said Doug Ballou, also a GRACE founder and board vice president.

The foundation has held numerous fundraisers, but Tuesday’s webinar was the first in what organizers hope will be several GRACE Speaks events. The live online broadcasts bring together a celebrity sharing his or her story, then dialogues with a few Oxford house residents to learn about their addiction, treatment and recovery.

“We’d like to spread the word as best we can,” Publicist Robb Yagmin said. “Everyone can relate to a story. These are real people stories.”

Moritz said that to maintain sobriety, “I need to be of service to others.” Her strength comes from being around others who are in recovery, such as the three Oxford House residents, Lance Whitney, Nick Dykes and Kimberly Eversgerd, whom she interviewed after sharing her story during the online presentation. “I get my strength from listening to other peoples’ stories,” she said.

In the Name of GRACE was founded by Kansas City area residents Ballou and his wife, Nancy Whitworth (who grew up in Independence), along with Rob and Anissa Elsey. The friends launched In the Name of GRACE after the Elsey’s daughter was admitted to an Oxford House as a resident. Her father, Rob, said he immediately realized that because his daughter took the last bed in the residential recovery house, another dad would hear that there was no room for his daughter, prompting the formation of the nonprofit. The Oxford model, which was launched during the 1970s, is unique because it allows residents to live in the homes indefinitely when they observe program rules of remaining sober, paying rent and other expenses, and doing chores. There are nearly 3,000 homes in five countries, according to the group.

Lance Whitney, a user from age 7 to 42, said when he was released from prison for drug-related offenses, he was admitted into an Oxford House, which offered him the structure he needed that enabled him to grow. Whitney now works for the organization, locating and furnishing homes in safe neighborhoods and said his position with the organization helps him to “give back.”

Moritz shared that her journey to recovery, at times, included no hope. She said, “Through sobriety, I have become a better journalist with more compassion and, honestly, core gifts I can offer, especially in the times we’re in now.”

The next GRACE Speaks event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 22 and will feature Liz Murray, author of “From Homeless to Harvard.” Murray will share her story of how she overcame the hardships of growing up with drug-addicted parents. While the initial Speaks was free, subsequent events will cost $25. To subscribe, visit the webinar link: https://video.ibm.com/channel/kvb5cbKCKuX.