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They declare: 'God's got our back'

Firefighters had to rip open the ceiling/floor to access and put out the fire at the sober house last month, which has left large holes now in need of repair.1 / 3
This strip of floor is where sober house residents found a hotspot that contained a fire on Tuesday evening, Dec. 13.2 / 3
Though the damage isn't very visible from the outside, on the inside the sober house, the aftermath of last month's fire is obvious.3 / 3

Servant of the Shepherd Church, 103 N. 4th St., has been running its sober house program next door for about 17 years.

The goal is to help recently sober people rebuild their lives, say house managers Pam Norton and Kevin Patrick, and Servant of the Shepherd Pastor Frank Lukasiewicz.

"It's a safe place to learn how to be part of a family again," Patrick said. "They learn how to get their life literally back together, because once they've gone through the gamut of addiction, they have an aftermath of like a tornado."

Patrick and Norton manage a Sober House at 111 N. 4th St., owned by Servant of the Shepherd, which has been operational for 14 years. Each of them in recovery from addiction, Lukasiewicz, Norton and Patrick said the sober house program is very important to them.

"It's our life," both Norton and Patrick said.

But on Tuesday, Dec. 13, a big wrench was thrown in that program.

Firefighters were called to investigate an "electrical smoke smell" just after 5:30 p.m., after a circuit breaker went off, and wouldn't turn on again.

There was also a smoky smell, so Norton, Patrick, and the residents called the fire department.

Firefighters examined the circuit, and tried to find where the smoke was coming from. Fire Chief Scott Nelson said at the time that firefighters found no hotspots, smoke or fire.

The fire crew left the scene at 6 p.m. An electrician had already been called as was left to troubleshoot the electrical problem.

Norton and Patrick said the smoke, instead of dissipating, got stronger after the fire department left. They, and everyone else who was home at the time, searched the house to find the source of the smoke.

They found a hot spot in the second-floor hallway, and the firefighters were called back less than half an hour later.

When they arrived, firefighters could see smoke coming from the eaves of the house.

The fire was between the ceiling and floor in the entry way. Firefighters cut open the floor/ceiling, and walls in several places in order to access the fire and put it out.

Lukasiewicz said he, Norton and Patrick are grateful that every resident of the Sober House made it out safely, including pets.

"No one got hurt, and that was a blessing," Lukasiewicz said. "Everybody was safe, and you know, it didn't burn all the way down to the ground."

Still, it hasn't been easy to see the aftermath of the fire.

Norton and Patrick said it's especially hard for them to see the damage done by the fire because that house is much more than a place to sleep to them.

"It was a home," Norton said.

"It breaks my heart to go in there," said Patrick.

As the house likely won't be habitable until spring, it will be a challenge to maintain the sober house program as repairs are being made.

"Not only do we provide the rooms for the guys, but there's also ministry that goes on pretty much 24/7," Lukasiewicz said. "They come into Pam's house, the Sober House, all the time."

People come, Lukasiewicz said, for help with recovery or other troubling issues.

The Sober House managed by Norton and Patrick also hosts a weekly Sunday dinner for the residents and several sober house "alumni."

"We have a lot of alumni that have stayed with us the whole time and then got their life together," Patrick said.

"And maintained sobriety," Norton continued.

"And choose to stay in town here now, and have places in town, and they still come back on Sunday night for the meal and meeting, because they're family," Patrick said.

The fire has caused a disruption for that family, but Patrick, Norton and Lukasiewicz said they're not letting that keep them from continuing to support the sober house residents as best they can.

They've stayed in contact with the residents — Norton especially calling or texting each of them every day — and the Sunday dinners will also continue.

Servant of the Shepherd runs three sober houses — the one Norton and Patrick run at 111 N. Fourth St., called The Sober House, and two others called Shepherd's House, and The Lighthouse.

Most people at the sober house program have gone through rehab programs and a halfway house, though Patrick said others have come to the program straight off the street.

Sober House residents are usually recently sober and dealing with the aftermath of their addiction, which can include estrangement or problems with family and friends, financial and legal issues, and more.

It can be overwhelming to deal with, Patrick said. And that is what the Sober House helps people with — putting their lives back together one step at a time.

Patrick experienced the program firsthand.

"It saved my life," he said. "I actually came into the Sober House as one of the guys almost 11 years ago, and I never left. I'm still here."

He said Sober House residents are encouraged to get involved in the community, in work, in life, and find ways to give back.

Managing the Sober House with Norton is one way he can give back. Lukasiewicz said the entire church is very involved in helping others, in any way they can, through the sober house program or in other ways.

"It takes literally a community to help that one individual," Lukasiewicz said.

In addition to the sober houses, Servant of the Shepherd offers help to people struggling with addiction, personal crises, homelessness, or other problems all the time, Lukasiewicz said.

It's many of those same church members who have reached out to help the people who live in the Sober House while it's being repaired.

Friends have taken in Norton and Patrick temporarily. Some from the Sober House were able to stay, temporarily, at another of Servant of the Shepherds three sober houses.

And one church member started a GoFundMe page to help the church deal with the aftermath of the fire.

Norton said the money will go to help the Sober House residents in various ways.

The next steps for the Sober House residents have been to remove personal belongings from the house so repair work can start, and continue regular Sunday evening meals and meetings at various temporary locations until a more permanent location is found.

Patrick and Norton said they're reconnecting with their group and moving forward.

Though this has been a difficult ordeal, Patrick, Norton, and Lukasiewicz said God will see them through."

"God's got our back, always has," Norton said. "That's what we're about."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

(715) 426-1048
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