Rebuilding the Blocks of Life

After successfully completing the Chanlyut program, participant Israel Soto’s plans include returning to the food service industry through hotel and restaurant management. Israel is rebuilding his life with the values Chanlyut instills in its participants.

After successfully completing the Chanlyut program, participant Israel Soto’s plans include returning to the food service industry through hotel and restaurant management. Israel is reaching his goals armed with the values Chanlyut instills in its residents. Photos by Wayde Carroll

Through Persistence and Sobriety, Israel Soto is showing up for life every day  

“Man, you’re like a little kid playing with building blocks!” a friend once told Israel Soto. “It made sense,” Israel says now. “I would build everything up—my family, my job, everything I wanted—then I’d just tear it down again.”

His method of destruction was alcohol.

Originally from New York, Israel joined the military at 22, where he became a cook. “You’d put in a good hard day’s work, then everybody would meet up at the tavern. You’d drink all night, then get up the next day and do it all again,” he recalls.

Outside the military, he built himself a life—marriage, kids, a good job. Military life had equipped him with the skills and leadership to become a kitchen manager and, later, a prep cook on the North Slope. But it had also saddled him with a bad habit.

“The drinking really intensified, and I couldn’t balance it with work,” Israel describes. “I’d wake up tired, hung over. I’d start calling in sick, lost a few jobs. It started affecting my health, too.”

With his wife threatening divorce and his career in shambles, Israel made the decision that would turn his life around. He got sober, thanks to CITC’s Ernie Turner Center residential in-patient program, then came to Chanlyut for help transitioning back into the workforce.

After one year in the program, Israel Soto has learned to stay focused, take on responsibility and lead others as the janitorial supervisor of a crew that cleans Credit Union 1 and Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

After one year in the program, Israel Soto has learned to stay focused, take on responsibility and lead others as the janitorial supervisor of a crew that cleans Credit Union 1 and Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

Unlike many of the men at Chanlyut, Israel had ample work experience before entering the program.

But he also had a chip on his shoulder, recalls Assistant Program Director Kevin Riehl. “Israel was very resistant to change when he first came to Chanlyut. He had a lot of ideas about the way he thought things should be.”

After one year in the program, Israel has learned to stay focused, take on responsibility and lead others as the janitorial supervisor of a crew that cleans Credit Union 1 and Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

At 52, he says, he has finally learned to finish the things he starts. “I could never do that before. It’s just the fact of being sober and going to work every day—that’s what keeps me focused.”

Requiring that participants show up for work—and life—every day is one of the ways Chanlyut prepares men for success beyond the program. It’s one of the values that are helping Israel rebuild something he knows he won’t tear down.

After Chanlyut, he hopes to go back into food service, perhaps earning a certificate in hotel and restaurant management.

Now Israel’s relationship with his family is stronger than ever, and he’s staying sober.

“I know for a fact I can’t go back and do what I was doing before, back to sitting in the rain with a fifth in my hand,” Israel says. “That’s not what I want anymore. And I just have this feeling that if I keep doing what I’m doing now, everything’s going to be okay.”