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Myers Launches Sober Corps

An article by Brian Johnson in an October 2007 edition of Finance & Commerce tells the story of Sober Corps’ beginning. Although the article has now been archived, the text can be read below.

Former Caterpillar Tractor Co. executive launches ‘Sober Corps’ in Minneapolis.

Fred Myers is working on another good cause with a little help from his construction friends. Myers, a tireless former Caterpillar Tractor Co. executive and founder of Rebuild Resources, is spearheading a new faith-based effort to help recovering alcoholics stay sober and lead productive lives.

Known as “Sober Corps,” the initiative is all about prevention and giving hope to people in recovery, Myers said. He aims to connect at-risk recovering alcoholics with mentors who can offer guidance, support and advice. “We want to get a template set up here on how you select candidates, screen them, motivate them and train the mentors,” explained Myers, who plans to officially launch the program Oct. 7 at Gethsemane Church in downtown Minneapolis. A mentor could be “like the dad or brother that these people never had,” he added. The ultimate goal is to “get to these guys before they land in prison.”

Myers, who loves to talk about “building lives, not prisons,” rattled off statistics that show the connection between addiction and incarceration. Eighty percent of prison inmates have issues with chemical dependency, he noted. And while numerous recovery programs exist for prison inmates and ex-offenders, Myers said there’s a dire need for assistance that might keep people from landing behind bars in the first place. That’s where Sober Corps fits in. It would not compete with Alcoholics Anonymous or any other program. Rather, it would provide a network of mentors, workshops and resources designed to “get someone in your corner and help you stay sober,” Myers said. Workshops could cover anything from finding gainful employment to re-establishing family relationships.

Myers gushed about his vision last week while showing off recent improvements at Gethsemane Church. The 151-year-old church at 905 Fourth St. in Minneapolis will host Sober Corps events. In return, Myers and some of his friends agreed to fix up some long-vacant spaces in church spaces that used to house diocese offices and classrooms. The Plumbers Local 15 union donated plumbing fixtures for the project, and union president Tom Daugherty provided the labor. Daugherty said some of the toilets in the basement dated back to 1905; he replaced them with modern, water-efficient models. Others chipped in with free, or significantly reduced-cost, labor and materials for other projects.

In recent days, crews have painted, repaired crumbling walls, re-plastered ceilings and put in new wiring in the basement space. Hidden away in the belly of the basement is a basketball court dedicated to the memory of former Minnesota Timberwolves player Malik Sealy. A scene from Sealy’s playing days is depicted on one of the walls. Myers believes it’s fitting that a Sober Corps basketball team may someday race up and down the floor on a court that honors Sealy, who died seven years ago when a drunk driver crashed into his vehicle.

A graduate of the University of Illinois, Myers served in the Korean War and later held management positions with Caterpillar and Ziegler Inc. After leaving the corporate world, he founded Rebuild Resources, which provides job training and life skills for chemically dependent young people. In 2006, he founded the American Academy Initiative, which envisions similar offerings on self-contained campuses.

Sober Corps is an offshoot of American Academy Initiative. Myers hopes to “get the ball rolling” on Sober Corps with $35,000 in seed money. He’s about halfway there. Long-term, he sees a volunteer-based organization that could run on less than $100,000 a year and could be replicated in other cities. People with connections to the Associated Builders and Contractors of Minnesota, the local Women in Construction group and other construction organizations have expressed interest in getting involved with Sober Corps, Myers said.

Myers may not change the world overnight. In fact, he will consider Sober Corps a success if it can help even one person. “But if it can work for one guy,” he added, “it can work for hundreds of guys. It starts small, but it has the potential to grow. I’ll tell you one thing — there is a need for this everywhere.”