Power of kindness, hard work and a pizza

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Alex Litz, a 32-year-old businessman and trade marketer for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was elected recently to St. Vincent de Paul North Idaho’s executive board, a position he credits to hard work, a misdemeanor and slice of pizza.

Ten years ago, Litz, of Coeur d’Alene, found himself on the side of the road, flashing red and blue lights in his rearview mirror. After years of partying and underage drinking, his luck finally ran out. He was arrested for driving under the influence and was sentenced to four days of sheriff’s labor.

Like most inmates in the Sheriff’s Community Labor Program, day one of Litz’s service meant putting on a pair of gloves and organizing trash at the Ramsey dump. The alternative sentencing program, allowing low risk offenders to complete community service hours instead of jail time, prevented Litz from going back to his college-like, party-animal lifestyle.

With the orange vest, the disapproving looks from passersby and the off-brand bologna sandwiches, Litz was miserable.

It was not until his last day of service at St. Vincent de Paul’s Thrift Store that he finally felt he could make a positive effect on the Coeur d’Alene community.

“By far, my best experience with the program was organizing clothing donations at St. Vinny’s,” Litz said. “I grew up around here, so I remember in high school shopping at St. Vinny’s in the 50 cent bin. It was full-circle having my first job at St. Vinny’s being organizing the clothes.”

After hours of sorting through Hawaiian T-shirts and used undergarments, it was time for lunch. He was preparing for another afternoon of bologna-like mystery meat and boiled eggs smothered in a “weird mayonnaise sauce,” when a St. Vincent’s employee set a Kirkland pizza on the breakroom table. Litz was so thankful he could cry. Mystery meat can do that to a man.

“When you’re wearing the orange vest, everyone knows you’re there because you did something wrong,” Litz said. “They don’t have to be nice to you, and most times they weren’t. But the St. Vinny’s employees treated us just like any other volunteer. I’m so grateful they saved me from eggs and weird, speckled bologna.”

The kindness of the St. Vincent employees encouraged Litz to get involved with local organizations for the homeless. He began working as a public relations manager for the Region 1 Homeless Coalition, a group of agencies, businesses and individuals that works to address issues faced by homeless in North Idaho.

In 2013, Litz made contact with Barb Smalley, St. Vincent’s development director. The two began organizing a fundraiser comedy night at The Coeur d’Alene Resort. Litz, who could have once been recognized as a doorman for the resort, was now hosting a comedy show with 700 guests.

“I was the Robin to her Batman,” Litz said. “Barb, and everyone else at St. Vinny’s, never told me no. They listened to all my crazy ideas and actually helped me accomplish them. For the first time, I really felt like I was appreciated and my work was important.”

From there, Litz began working on St. Vincent’s marketing team. He assisted in most all of St. Vincent’s events, including a community-wide steak fry, a veterans run, a fashion show and a leadership workshop. Litz said his favorite event is the fashion show.

“My girlfriend thinks I’m a terrible dancer, but I always get invited to do the dance routine at the fashion shows,” Litz said. “Yeah, I watched the videos. I think I agree with her.”

His dedication to St. Vinny’s did not go unnoticed.

Jeff Conroy, the executive director of St. Vincent de Paul North Idaho, nominated Litz to serve on the board, running the marketing and communications staff.

The position is uncompensated, and Litz expects to put in as much of his free time as he can. He does not care about the money. He just wants to change people’s lives.

“Whatever I’m doing, I can be happy as long as I’m here,” Litz said. “I don’t know if I could step into an organization and feel like I have the same impact as I do at St. Vinny’s. I am part of a family here.”

Litz said his favorite part of being elected to the board was telling his grandparents, longtime members of the Catholic charity Knights of Columbus.

“Calling my grandparents and telling them I graduated college was one thing,” Litz said. “But being able to call them and say I’ve joined the board at St. Vincent’s was even more exciting.”

These days, Litz can be found competing in Ironman, running on the Centennial Trail with his girlfriend or checking out local humane societies for a new dog.

No matter where he goes, Litz remains thankful for once having the opportunity to eat a Kirkland pizza in an orange vest.

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