Belle Haven celebrates fifth anniversary

Rum River Health Services (RRHS) observed the fifth anniversary of the nonprofit’s townhomes during a lunch last Thursday in Princeton. It included an overview of the townhomes by RRHS Executive Director Jeff Larson and a talk by Franni Franken. Wife of U.S. Senator Al Franken, Franni acknowledged during her talk that she is a recovering alcoholic.

RRHS had the townhomes built to assist people in recovering from alcohol and drug addictions.

Many who have gone through primary treatment end up going back to the environment they were in and then slip back into their old drug abusing, Larson said. The townhomes, he said, are a safe place for the recovering person and the people staying with them, Larson said.


The statistics

Larson noted that 48 families, consisting of 54 adults and 103 children, have lived at Belle Haven since it opened on the north side of First Street alongside the west side of the Highway 169 bypass. Also, out of the 34 families who have moved out, 32 went to permanent housing and two left Belle Haven without notice.

Many of the Belle Haven residents have had physical and mental health problems and some have had criminal backgrounds, Larson said. Also, all were homeless, Larson noted. An applicant for a residence at Belle Haven has to prove that they have been homeless, according to Larson.

Larson credited RRHS’ “extremely capable staff” for helping the Belle Haven residents and their children live better lives. Larson told of one boy who had been at Belle Haven for some time who wouldn’t listen to anybody and was “scrappy,” slowly developing into “the most polite young man who had come through (Belle Haven).”

A 13-year-old girl living at Belle Haven won a youth bowling championship, Larson said, calling it one of multiple success stories he has seen at Belle Haven. “I’m grateful for all that has happened here, grateful for all who have contributed money, time and energy and who have served on the board,” Larson added. “It’s amazing how it has all come together.”


Franni Franken’s talk

Franken led off with an anecdote about her mother having looked up Franni on the Internet and discovering that Franni was a recovering alcoholic. But her mother was positive about it, telling Franni,“I just wanted you to know how very proud I am of you.”

That was a “moving story for my mom to say that,” said Franken, who added that her situation has in one way been better than that of many other women recovering from alcoholism. Many are abused, homeless, their spouse has not stuck around or been supportive, and the women may be affected by criminal activity, she said. In her case, Franken said, her husband gave her love and support.

Franken said she had felt “guilt and shame” about being an alcoholic but found “incredible relief” once diagnosed with alcoholism and then she sought help for it.

“I salute all of you,” Franken said to her audience of nearly 20 that included many RRHS staff members and supporters of RRHS and Belle Haven.

Many who are in recovery from chemical dependency lose their socialization skill sets and so the staff members at Belle Haven have been like “aunties and surrogate parents” to the Belle Haven residents, Franken said.

Franken called Belle Haven an “enormous achievement,” an “incredible gem of a community,” and “Minnesota at its best.” She said she wished it could be replicated all across the country.

Not only does it help people, but it saves the country money by helping those who have been chemically dependent “move forward into society” and be “productive.”

Larson noted that RRHS will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer with a public picnic on June 19 at RRHS’ health center.

Franken added that when RRHS was working to start Belle Haven, a critic charged that it would mostly be bringing in residents from the metro area.

The records show otherwise, said Franken, stating that of the 54 adults who have resided at Belle Haven, 51 came from within a radius of 31 miles, 21 were from Mille Lacs County, 12 from Isanti County and six from Sherburne.