Monday, April 7, 2008

Halfway house unveils new look to public

Renovated Limen House for Women renews its commitment to sobriety

WILMINGTON -- Just as they celebrated the completion of a massive renovation project, supporters and staff of the Limen House for Women rededicated themselves to a mission of mercy.

"It's about saving lives," said Sister Margie Walsh, drug and alcohol counselor at the halfway house -- whose name, Limen, comes from a psychological term for threshold. "It represents human beings who have been restored to sanity."

Many see symbolism, too, in the house, a rescue job itself. Built in 1899, the stately three-story house on North Broom Street was spared the wrecking ball and restored from a state of boarded-up windows and deterioration. Many of the guests at a weekend reception there said the house has never looked better.

Beyond celebrating completion of donation-financed renovations, including an electrical system replacement and extensive repainting, supporters at the reception honored not only those who changed their lives here, but all who established it and kept the place going.

Former executive director Tommie Reid, who traveled from Virginia for the rededication, said many alcohol-recovery programs closed decades ago after overextending themselves by trying to be all things to all people. Vocational, emotional and medical needs also are important -- and Limen House residents get such support -- but the house succeeds by staying focused on recovery, Reid said.

The recovery aspect of the program, where women 18 and older live at least a year, is based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, board of directors President Gini Rogers said.

Since opening in 1973, the nonprofit house has served about 250 residents, Rogers said.

The residential therapeutic treatment program for recovering alcoholics began with its men's house, which opened in 1969 and is believed to be the nation's oldest continuously operating halfway house for recovering alcoholics. Limen House was created by St. Andrew's Episcopal Church of Wilmington, which raised private donations to run the program, named it and assembled its first board of directors.

Aside from longevity, Limen House is singular, Executive Director Reginald Irby said, because it is the only facility of its type in Delaware and is not part of any other program, hospital or business. Mainly run on donations, Limen House receives limited funds from the state and through United Way.

Among its requirements are that residents share chores, plan and make meals, and find and keep employment, all while developing their sobriety in what Reid called "a little tough love."

As a resident, she recalled, "we got up and we lived without drinking ... and nobody was honey-babying us."

New residents arrive with little left and their lives broken.

"They come in with just the clothes they are wearing," said Debbie Pisan, counselor in training.

By the time they leave, Rogers said, they have changed their habits to those of sober living, having gained employment and worked long enough to have cars and bank accounts as well as established support systems, including a sponsor they can reach out to in any sobriety-threatening crisis.

The weekend celebration also included the house's rededication as the Irene Rego Residence, honoring a resident who became executive director.

Next year, the Limen House for Women will mark its 40th year with celebrations, Dana Edwards told Saturday's crowd of fellow Limen House supporters in its refurbished foyer, lit by its original hanging light, restored by a donor.

Because of donations, which also included wallpapering and window treatments given by Mary Cairns Interiors, the renovation project's value topped its $150,000 cost, Irby said, acknowledging grants including support from the Gannett Foundation, the charity program of The News Journal's parent company.

Edwards thanked supporters on behalf of the women whose lives have changed here -- or can in the future because of their help -- saying, "It couldn't be done without all of you."

Contact robin brown at 324-2856 or

source: Delaware Online

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