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Halfway house enters transition phase

Del Permann, well known as a church minister and for his civic affairs involvement, has temporarily taken over the job of running the private, non-profit Kinnic Falls Alcohol-Drug Abuse Services, 902 S. Orange St. (just north of Ramer Field). Phil Pfuehler photo

His title says "interim," but Del Permann's not just passing time as new executive director/CEO of Kinnic Falls Alcohol-Drug Abuse Services.

On the job for a month, Permann says there's much to do until a permanent CEO is found, hopefully by winter's end.

There's a new computerized billing system to operate and update, cross-training of the 15-member staff made up of full- and part-timers and, perhaps, forming a foundation to generate a steady revenue source.

Part of the scramble is playing catch up. John Gerber, 62, Kinnic Falls CEO for 10 years, died quite suddenly last month from cancer.

Permann, who's also served for 25 years on the Kinnic Falls Board of Directors, said Gerber was an all-purpose, hands-on administrator. His absence is deeply felt and underscores the need to diversify the workload, Permann said.

Kinnic Falls, 37 years old, includes a halfway house and a sober house. The halfway house has 46 beds for male clients who suffer from alcohol and drug addictions or both. The recovery program uses the 12-step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Permann was head pastor for United Church of Christ (First Congregational) in River Falls from 1983-2002. He has non-denominational certification in conflict management/resolution and is an independent consultant for churches in crisis.

Permann said taking over Kinnic Falls operations gives him a fresh, up-close look at clients struggling with their addictions.

"Part of the reason for starting a foundation is to offer scholarships for those who don't have coverage and can't afford the full treatment here," he said. "The longer they stay in this environment, the better their chances of sobriety become."

Typically about 80% of the 46 beds are in use, Permann said. The nearby sober house, which allows for more independent living before the treatment is done, has room for eight.

Beating an alcohol/drug addiction is never a snap. Permann said 50% of Kinnic Falls clients return for treatment, some returning four, five, even six times.

"There really has to be a dedication not to drink," Permann said. "Especially if these guys return to their old environments, it's easy to go back to drinking.

"In most cases, our clients are relatively normal people. The tragedy is that the very young who we serve are often not ready for treatment. They're not that committed."

Permann said Kinnic Falls demands commitment or clients are sent packing.

"We have zero tolerance for violations, and that includes no smoking," he said.

While alcohol and drug addictions often overlap, Permann said this about drugs: "Despite what is sometimes claimed about marijuana not being addictive, it does seem to mostly start with using marijuana and then goes on to other drugs. The two biggies that we see are for meth and cocaine."

About three-fourths of Kinnic Falls clients have some insurance coverage or funding from county government. The cost is $74 a day, including room, board and meals.

Permann said it's the facility's atmosphere and relative isolation that brings a "greater softness" and "general acceptance" that's lacking in the lives of clients.

"They have a negative self worth and many are divorced and alone," he said. "Most have gone through hell and put themselves through that. There's a forgiving kindness, a spirituality here that helps transform their characters -- if they work at it. You can't forgive someone else until you forgive yourself."

Permann said River Falls should take pride that such a valuable facility has endured, even during bad economic times, for nearly four decades. He admitted that's not the reality.

"If you ask, I would guess most people don't even know we're here."

Permann said that perception is another challenge when it comes to fundraising.

"Drug and alcohol treatment is generally at the bottom of the list of what people give donations to."

Overcoming addictions and rehabilitating broken lives, Permann said, is a noble cause and worth the public's support.

If you wish to support Kinnic Falls, send contributions this address: 902 S. Orange St./River Falls/WI/54022/attention Del Permann.

"And if it's really big, I'll come to your house for it," Permann laughed.

Here's the rest of the Kinnic Falls Board of Directors: Joe Boles, president; Maureen McEwen; Doug Smith; Bernie VanOsdale; Thomas Beauchman; Bill Campbell; Todd Schultz; Paul Schwebach; Sandra Smith Wurm; and Connie Foster.

To learn more, go to this Web site: