Organization lights the path to recovery

The Irvine-based Illumination Foundation helps locals with affordable housing and a second chance.

August 17, 2010|By Tom Ragan,
  • SMALL BUT COMFORTABLE - Lisa and Fred Zoller, stand in kitchen area of thier apartment they call home at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn. Their children, Fredyzia, and Fantasia, are shown in a photograph that hangs above thier bed at right.
SMALL BUT COMFORTABLE - Lisa and Fred Zoller, stand in… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — They're a long way from the Hawaiian beaches of Oahu, where, they said, their addiction to meth eventually made them homeless, forcing them to live out of a tent in a place called Barbers Point.

They used to stay up all night "tweaking" with other meth addicts who'd gather there. They had tiki torches outside. Their tent was pretty big. Visitors came and went. They had lots of fellow methhead friends, but something in life was missing.

Meth always seemed to have the edge. So they got out.

These days, Fred and Lisa Zoller and their daughter, Fantasia, 9, and son, Fredyzia, 5, live in a cramped-yet-comfortable subsidized room at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn on Harbor Boulevard. A pool sits right outside their door. Their twin bed butts up against the kitchen. The sleeping quarters for their children: a free-standing bunk bed.

But life is good now.


For nearly a year, the couple has slowly managed to become productive, rent-paying, independent, hard-working citizens — a complete turnaround from their desperate living situation five years ago in Hawaii, where they were born and raised.

"We weren't the only ones doing meth," said Lisa Zoller, 46. "Just about everybody's addicted to the stuff over there."

Today, she works long hours at a senior care facility in Costa Mesa, where she recently was promoted as an administrator.

Fred Zoller, 45, Lisa's husband of nearly a decade, seems to have found his niche in nursing. He has a knack for helping the disabled.

He's working for the Illumination Foundation, an Irvine-based nonprofit that helped set up the Zoller family with their new living situation, in which the Zollers pay cheap rent — $600 — for the motel room they live in.

And Lisa and Fred both owe their gratitude to a guy by the name of Paul Leon, the executive director of the foundation, which was founded three years ago with $50,000 seed money and with one purpose in mind: To try and help at least a portion of the overlooked 35,000 homeless people who live in Orange County.

"This is just one story," said Leon, referring to Zoller couple's success. "There are thousands of stories out there. It's amazing what drugs and alcohol can do to people's lives. I've seen it time and again. People can be doing fine, then suddenly drug addiction enters the picture, and before you know it their lives are thrown into total disarray."

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