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James House expands services to help families of addicts cope

James House founder Gary VanEps, left, and James House business manager Joe Thimons stand outside the recently opened First Street office where the faith-based program for chemical dependency will now offer counseling services to families of addicts as well. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

WILLMAR -- After four years in and out of 11 treatment facilities, Joe Thimons hadn't found what he described as "meaningful sobriety."

"You name it, I tried it to get sober," Thimons said of his chemical dependency.

Two of those 11 attempts at sobriety were at a treatment facility in Willmar, where Thimons -- a now recovered alcoholic -- first encountered chemical abuse counselor and fellow recovered alcoholic Gary Van Eps.

Van Eps had recently opened the James House, a faith-based, Christian discipleship residence for men recovering from chemical addictions. Thimons soon left Willmar's treatment facility to join Van Eps at the James House, and became one of the first clients to complete the program's rehabilitation process.

The James House website describes the facility as a semi-structured residence designed to support recovery using Alcoholics Anonymous principles with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.

Since Thimons' release from the James House in 2001, the center has served more than 150 men recovering from chemical addictions. Thimons, a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., has rejoined Van Eps within the past year as the program's executive director.

"We both knew I would come back," said Thimons of his return to work with Van Eps.

Thimons, who earned his bachelor's degree in business and also graduated from a two-year Bible school upon completion of rehabilitation, handles the business operations of the program.

The addition of Thimons, along with house manager and former James House client Bruce Kleinhuizen, has allowed Van Eps to focus on an aspect of chemical addiction Van Eps says is too often overlooked: families of the recovering alcoholic.

"My heart has always been with the families," Van Eps said. "They are the innocent victims left to pick up the mess."

Since opening the residence, Van Eps has spent countless hours on the phone with families -- often at odd hours -- helping them to sort the mess left behind by their loved one. Opening a center to minister to families has always been a goal of the James House, yet the program lacked finances, space and manpower to open a separate facility -- until now.

With space donated by James Ruff in the office complex south of Office Max in Willmar and grant money made available by United Way of West Central Minnesota, Van Eps is now able to open the James House Christian Recovery Services.

The new office provides a base for Van Eps and his staff to educate families on chemical addictions and the treatment process, as well as assist in referrals to appropriate treatment facilities. Families are welcome to come in during the day, but Vap Eps says his staff is willing to meet on evenings or weekends as well.

With a prominent location off First Street in Willmar, Van Eps and his staff hope families will take advantage of the program's offerings.

Van Eps remembers the uncertainty he felt when he first opened the residence in 2001. Van Eps, who continues to serve as a chemical dependency counselor in the area, said he opened the facility after seeing nearly so many treatment clients fail to stay sober after the first year.

"I was so sick of seeing the same people at the treatment center over and over again," Van Eps said. "I knew there had to be a better way."

Van Eps hoped for higher success rates through his rehabilitation process, which aligns closely with the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program. Van Eps says the main focus of the rehabilitation process is to teach willing persons to surrender their addiction to a higher power. Requirements of the James House program begin with a six-month commitment, which includes attending weekly Bible studies and a weekly church service of the client's choosing.

According to Van Eps, 78 percent of the program's 150 clients have remained sober, compared to the 10 percent national average. With such a high success rate, Van Eps says the James House is becoming well-known in the treatment world. Many of the program's clients travel from all corners of the country to stay at the residence, which now houses up to seven men at a time.

The expansion plans extend beyond the new family recovery services for James House staff. Van Eps says his next goal for James House is to open a rehabilitation center for women. He says he has faith in the abilities of his staff to accomplish future endeavors.

"We're not experts and we don't have PhDs," Thimons said of the staff at the James House. "But the bottom line is we want to plant the seed so that God can produce change in the lives of addicts."

More information about James House is available at the website: or by calling 320-262-4035 or 320-222-1329.