Foster brother finds refuge from abusive past

| December 19, 2013 | 0 Comments
From left, Sergei Thomas joins Jack and Andrew Cozzens on a climb. Photo courtesy of Judy Cozzens

From left, Sergei Thomas joins Jack and Andrew Cozzens on a climb. Photo courtesy of Judy Cozzens

To say Sergei Thomas had a troubled life as a teenager would be an understatement.

The truth is, his home environment was a train wreck, with Thomas and his brother and sister victimized by a verbally and physically abusive stepfather.

Enter the Cozzens family. Right around the time Thomas became a teenager in Denver, Jack and Judy Cozzens helped start the Fresh Air Program in Denver, which helps connect innercity youth in single-parent households with stable, two-parent families, usually in the suburbs.

Jack and Judy had done something similar when they lived in Philadelphia, and thought it would be good to duplicate in Denver.

What they didn’t know was that they were about to rescue a teen who easily could have entered the juvenile system had he carried through with his desire to fight back against the abuse he and his siblings had suffered.

The Cozzens family met Thomas right after he turned 13, and they quickly developed a bond with a boy who didn’t like school, yet managed to get As on tests despite skipping classes.

Member of the family

There were several friendly encounters between Thomas and his new suburban friends, but the relationship soon turned urgent when the violence in his own household got worse.

At one point, Thomas fled the house and went to stay with a relative. While there, he contacted Jack and Judy for help. That initiated a chain of events that led to them becoming certified as foster parents and taking Thomas in. Though he was never formally adopted, due to opposition from his stepfather and biological mother, he wound up living with Jack, Judy, their son Andrew (now Bishop Cozzens) and daughter Helen.

Their impact on him was immediate and dramatic. He became an outstanding student at Green Mountain High School in Denver and also was a track star who competed in sprints at the state meet. He placed second at state in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and his 4×200 relay team placed first and set a state record in the process. After that, he sorted through college scholarship offers and chose the University of Colorado, where he competed in track up until a career-ending injury.

He went on to study law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kan., and today is a lawyer in Denver. He spent 16 years working in the district attorney’s office, encountering youth with the same kind of difficult upbringing he had. He now works in a private practice that deals with family law.

Road to healing

Thanks to the Cozzens family, he has found healing from his abusive past, and even was able to forgive his stepfather in 2008. Just four months later, he sat by the man’s bedside as he lay dying of cancer. Based on the influence of the Cozzens family, Bishop Cozzens in particular, Thomas felt led to pray over his stepfather after he had lost consciousness.

“I think this is partly where the influence of Drew and visiting with the Cozzenses came over me, because I could never see myself doing this otherwise,” said Thomas, 49, a divorced father of two who belongs to an Evangelical Covenant church in Denver. “It’s hard to put into words the impact that their influence has had on my life. But, it appears everywhere — the things you learn, the things that you experience, the things that you share.”

Thomas was able to journey to the Twin Cities for his foster brother’s ordination. He sat in the front row with Jack, Judy, their daughter Helen Healy and her husband, Tim, and seven children.

Like more than 1,000 others in the pews on Dec. 9, he was filled with joy and admiration for the man who has touched him so deeply.

“It’s fantastic,” Thomas said of his opportunity to witness the ordination. “The two things that we all seek in this life are acceptance and affirmation. And, those things were in abundance at that Mass. I told people I didn’t expect that he would be appointed to this position as bishop, but it doesn’t surprise me. That’s who Drew is. So, to be a part of the recognition of his complete devotion to his faith and his role in the Church is great.”

Tags: , , ,

Category: Bishop Cozzens