Man gives back through new halfway house

Published 1:51 pm Thursday, January 10, 2008

Herb Coon says he promised his mother before she died that he would dedicate his life to serving others.

Herb&squo;s House, the only halfway house in Polk County, is the result of that promise.

Coon&squo;s mother, Donna Boas, passed away before she could see Herb&squo;s House open. An open house was held at the end of last year.

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But Boas lived long enough to make sure her son got into a good rehabilitation facility and to see that he was fully along the path to recovery. Coon, who lived in Florida for 40 years before coming to this area, was able to share his plans for the halfway house with his mother just before she died last year. He says he&squo;s grateful that she left him the means to make it happen.

In 2006 Coon spent a few months at Pavillon in Sunny View and then transitioned to a halfway house in Asheville. He says he hopes Herb&squo;s House will give residents in this area a more convenient choice than having to travel two counties away as he did.

Halfway houses play an important role, he says, in helping people who have already begun the rehabilitation process. Although they may have completed a rehabilitation program, they may not be completely ready for life on their own again, says Coon.

Temptations to go back to their substance abuse habits can be everywhere, he notes, and pressures from unhealthy family relationships can derail their recovery.

A halfway house gives those people a place to transition back to the working world while living in a healthy, supportive environment.

&dquo;There can be a lot of anxiety when you get out (of a rehabilitation facility). You&squo;re wondering, &squo;What&squo;s going to happen?,&squo;&dquo; says Coon. &dquo;This is a place to kind of transition and get back into society and back into working. It&squo;s just a calm, safe environment.&dquo;

Herb&squo;s House sits on a 12-acre, wooded property in rural Polk County, a peaceful setting that Coon says is ideal for those trying to make a &dquo;successful and substance-free reentry into the community.&dquo; The nearest place to buy beer is more than six miles away, he notes.

A trail from the house meanders through the woods and along a creek where Mountain Laurel bushes line the banks.

The house includes a large garden that will provide some of the food for residents. Coon says it&squo;s important to eat healthy, regular meals while in recovery.

&dquo;Blood sugar levels are critical for them,&dquo; he says. &bsp;

Nadine Naujoks, administrative manager for the house, says the meals provide residents a chance to interact and provide mutual support, while garden chores also will offer residents a chance to develop skills.

Herb&squo;s House plans a mentoring system to help residents develop a variety of life skills, including those needed to prepare meals and maintain a house and yard. Residents also will learn how to budget, manage their time and set goals, says Naujoks.

Residents are required to attend AA meetings for their first 90 days, which Coon says is different from some halfway houses where they are voluntary. Coon says he hopes to eventually have AA meetings at the house since the locations of current meetings are not always convenient for area residents, particularly those living in rural areas.

All of the residents at Herb&squo;s House must work, attend school or volunteer at a nonprofit organization for a minimum of five days per week.

&dquo;An idle mind is not good for someone in recovery,&dquo; says Coon.

The house, which is private and charges a weekly fee, is for adult males only and will not accept anyone with a history of violent crimes. Applicants must be clean and sober for at least the past 30 days or come directly from an in-patient facility. Residents who use drugs or

alcohol while at Herb&squo;s House will be expelled.

Residents are encouraged to stay for at least six months. Coon says studies show that people who stay in a halfway house for 3 to 11 months have a much greater chance of successfuly completing their transition back into a regular life.

Herb&squo;s House currently has six beds plus an apartment area for a manager. One of the residents will be chosen to become the manager. Coon says he plans to renovate the garage area of the house so he can add four more beds and then have up to 11 people, including the manager.

Coon, who spent much of his spare time outside his regular job to get the house ready, says he plans to remain actively involved with the house and its operation.

After years of planning and working on the project, Coon and Najouks say they are glad to see there&squo;s a place for people in this area to come and get the support they need for a full recovery.

&dquo;Everything is going very well,&dquo; says Najouks. &dquo;The house is now open and accepting guests.&dquo;

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