Portage County program helps man cement new beginning with apartment

Published: Feb. 7, 2021 at 9:54 PM CST
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PORTAGE COUNTY, Wis. (WSAW) - A stable place to come home to at night can change everything for someone struggling to get back on their feet. A program in Portage County called “Rent Ready” is helping people take that step and find stability by backing some rent and connecting participants with quality landlords.

One Rent Ready graduate says securing his own place is a crucial step for him to get stability in his life and provide a stable home for his kids.

Andrew Lehman’s life is all about his two kids. You can see it in his home, decorated by kids’ projects and chore charts.

“They definitely give me a lot of purpose, is what I’m finding,” he said.

But he’s learned that good things don’t come overnight.

“My brother said a lot to me, you know, ‘stay the course, stay the course’ and in the beginning of that, it seemed like it was so far off,” Lehman said.

Just one year ago, his situation was very different.

“I had a warrant for me through probation and I just was in the midst of addiction I guess and I was arrested and taken to jail,” he explained.

But with what he calls a 5th chance from authorities, he joined a treatment program. It helped him get clean and lean on his family.

“I really reached out to my family, I really leaned on my probation officer, some social workers, just whatever was there and available to me, I utilized. Instead of just trying to handle everything myself and just internalizing it,” he said, explaining that he felt this time he learned to ask others for help.

Still, he couldn’t find an apartment to cement his new beginning. He began being able to have his kids over for visits, but would have to stay with them in the one bedroom he rented from his brother.

“Because of my background, I got turned down every single place that I went,” Lehman said.

Then someone told him about the rent ready program for people who need a boost to get a decent apartment. Participants go through a curriculum given by program founder Mark Kordus. The goal is to help people like Lehman who have something in their past that keeps them from moving forward from the past and stepping into a new life.

“I feel like this is a crucial piece of the journey. It definitely gave me a heck of a lot more sense of independence, and it gave my kids a home to run around and play in,” Lehman said of his apartment, which he secured just before Christmas, surprising his kids with the holiday move.

Program mentor Brian Formella says he already sees changes.

“His story is remarkable, because he’s done a lot of reflection, in my opinion, as to who he is,” Formella said.

He’s now helping Lehman keep the apartment and transition into his new step.

“People with a background maybe similar to Andrew’s really are a good bet to take, a good risk to take in the marketplace. So, quite frankly, I think there’s a lot to be said for the economic part of the program,” he said.

Lehman now has custody of both kids.

“I went from full time using drugs and making terrible decisions, to now I’m full time dad and I’m doing all the school stuff and figuring it out as I go,” he said.

He’s also started a renovation business and a business with his brother, in addition to working a day job.

Rent Ready is now working on helping participants get their homes furnished with a grant from Portage County that lets them store and move in donated furniture.

For more information, click here.

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