Life Connections Peer Recovery Services in DeWitt recently won $300,000 from the Eastern Iowa Region of Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) to expand and improve its peer support services.

The funds will go toward purchase of a larger home in DeWitt, to continue the nonprofit’s Rhonda’s House and move out of its current location at 1131 Hospital Drive, two doors north of Genesis Medical Center. Genesis owns the property, along with the houses to the north and south, and donated the home for Life Connections’ use. Over 260 people have benefitted from the free services since the home opened in October 2018.

Rhonda’s House in DeWitt is owned by Genesis Medical Center.

Rhonda’s House (Iowa’s only peer-run Respite Center) provides a safe and welcoming environment for people who are experiencing a mental health crisis and who voluntarily choose temporary respite services to restore well-being and the ability to manage their lives, according to Life Connections. Rhonda’s House is an alternative to the more restrictive care of a locked psychiatric hospital facility.

At the house, residents receive recovery support from trained and caring peer staff members who have also experienced mental health challenges and who can share successful strategies for regaining and maintaining wellness. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has recognized peer-delivered respite services for individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis as an evidence-based practice.

Todd Noack, executive director of Life Connections Peer Recovery Services, is excited about the $300,000 grant, and plans to move into the larger house by May. The agreement with Genesis will expire June 1, 2022.

“In the current location, we have a three-bedroom, one-bath and in the new location that we’re going to be trying to get, it’s four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath,” Noack said Tuesday, noting the Eastern Iowa MHDS has been a consistent funding support for staff training, salaries and utilities, so services are free to residents.

Life Connections requires its staff to be state certified, and uphold that professionalism, he said, noting employees don’t live in the house, but work eight-hour shifts so someone is there 24 hours a day. Residents can stay for up to seven days, with the average being around six, Noack said.

Todd Noack is executive director of Life Connections Recovery Services.

“Doing this job at the respite house, I think actually benefits both parties,” Noack said. “We hear things that we’ve never heard. People have an emotional distress, but then we see so many of their strengths when they don’t see them. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that we helped them — is to see the strengths that they don’t. Because when they come in, they don’t feel that they have any strengths.”

Staff works with residents on wellness recovery action planning (WRAP), and ensuring they implement those plans, he said. The house is considered peer-run because services are based on residents’ needs, and they also support each other.

“What do they need to do daily? What are your wellness tools? Who are your supporters?” Noack said. “Maybe I need a few days to be around somebody that’s been there and get some support. Well, when I do go back home because I’ve had many surgeries — I’ve had back surgery and knee surgeries, and every time I have, I couldn’t go straight back to work. I had to go to physical therapy. And that’s the same thing with your mental health.”

A $250,000 capital campaign to start next month

Life Connections will launch a capital campaign in January to raise $250,000, and the DeWitt Bank & Trust will loan the rest of the money to buy the house, Noack said.

The $250,000 will go towards all new furniture, other furnishings, a walk-in shower and handicapped accessibility. They’re also seeking a state grant of $200,000 a year for three years, to be able to serve people from anywhere in Iowa (not just their designated region), Noack said. That would be from the Division of Mental Health and Disability Services, which oversees the regions, and they hope to hear about the grant application on Jan. 10.

Noack said Genesis plans to eventually tear down Rhonda’s House and two others for a parking lot, but noted that Life Connections is not being kicked out.

In a letter he received, Curt Coleman, president of Genesis Health System critical access hospitals, said the land is a part of Genesis’ “campus improvement and expansion plan.”

Genesis Medical Center is at 1118 11th St., DeWitt.

Coleman said Rhonda’s House has been a model tenant and that Genesis Medical Center has been “honored to be a partner in launching Rhonda’s House … the success of Rhonda’s House has been an inspiration to those of us here at Genesis Medical Center, DeWitt, to the entire community … and to all of Iowa.”

The house was named for Rhonda Shouse, a beloved advocate for Iowans with disabilities who passed away in 2017 at age 49. The peer-run respite center opened its doors on Oct. 15, 2018 and is operated 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

People can be refereed to Rhonda’s House by having them call 563-659-1171. Individuals must call ahead for reservations and to go through a screening process.

Life Connections Peer Recovery Services is a nonprofit that supports people experiencing mental health and substance addiction issues, and who want to work on their recovery goals and situations before getting into a crisis situation. They apply for state and federal grants, and receive support from local hospitals and other nonprofit agencies.

The Eastern MHDS Region covers Scott, Clinton, Jackson, Cedar and Muscatine counties. If you’re interested in donating for the Life Connections campaign, click HERE.