NORTH MANKATO —
Darcy Wennes has lived the kind of life that had a rock bottom. And at one point, his wife gave him an ultimatum.
Clean up, she told him, or it’s over.
She gave him time.
And, Wennes says, he cleaned up.
Now, several years and a college degree in counseling later, he’s launching a business venture that aims to help the kind of people who are dealing with issues Wennes knows about all too well.
In a few weeks, Wennes hopes to welcome the first clients into Belle House, a sober house for women struggling with addiction and mental illness. Located in North Mankato’s Northridge neighborhood, Belle House is the culmination of Wennes’ recovery from drug addiction and desire to help people like him.
To be able to set up a sober house that provides lodging for women, Wennes had to apply to the county for a group residential housing permit. Now his next adventure begins. But there’s a good chance it won’t be nearly as hard as the one that got him here.
After spending a short time in college in the 1990s, Wennes decided to head west. He worked in the art department in the film industry in Los Angeles, he said, for several years. And while he says he remembers having episodes of mental illness much earlier, it was in 2000 he had what he describes as a strong manic episode.
He went through severe depression, he says. He went to meetings with a 12-step program, but he says it wasn’t the right time.
“I would go to the meetings, but I wasn’t invested.”
He sunk lower. In March 2001, he attempted suicide and sunk lower still.
Then his wife, Sarah, moved back to Mankato and delivered that ultimatum.
“She said, ‘You have six months. Figure it out,’” he said.
He was broke, living on friends’ couches and generosity. Then, he had an epiphany.
“I need to get clean,” he recalls thinking.
He says he last used drugs in September 2001. After that, he struggled to rebuild both his life and his trust with his wife. Eventually, in 2002, they reconciled, and Wennes says he continued to go to his 12-step program.
Through that program, the name of which he declined to provide because of the group’s rules, Wennes started getting involved in service work. He started helping out at drug court and treatment centers, offering advice from a recovering addict to people who were still struggling to get their addictions under control.
His future changed course one day when a professor who was also working with those groups suggested to Wennes that he do this kind of work for a living. So that’s what he did.
He started at South Central College, then transferred to Minnesota State University and graduated with a degree in social work. Later, he took a job at the House of Hope, an in-patient chemical dependency treatment facility. He also enrolled in graduate school, and that’s where he started thinking about a place like Belle House.
When he got to the point where he was serious about starting a business, he needed financial help, so he first tried the traditional route: going to banks, laying out his business plan and asking for money. With little money of his own saved up, however, he found that banks were unwilling to buy into his idea.
Then he met with Dave Drummer of Heartland Homes and told him what he wanted to do. Drummer told him he had a house in North Mankato that they’d just acquired that would work perfectly. Not only that, but Drummer also offered to renovate the home and furnish it at no immediate cost to Wennes. (He’d need to repay it, but later, when he could afford it.)
He said he hopes living in a nice furnished home in Northridge will get the women who stay here thinking.
“I want the women to be inspired to have this kind of lifestyle for themselves,” he said.
And that’s where he sits now. The permits are in place and Wennes, come June, is hoping to have a house full of recovering addicts he hopes to help on their way to becoming productive members of society again.
Wennes said he thinks it will be the only such home strictly for women in the state south of Minneapolis.
Belle House is designed for eight women. Wennes hopes to use the revenue generated to create other sober houses. He’s been told by county social services officials that, given what they know about the needs of area recovering addicts, Belle House will be full right away.