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The new Grace Place: with growth comes need for greater support

It has been less than a year since Grace Place moved from the former St. Anne’s convent in Somerset to much larger quarters in the a former nursing home in New Richmond. The new space has been redecorated through the work and donations of volunteers from communities throughout the area. (Hudson Star-Observer photos by Emma Wagner) 1 / 6
The work of Grace Place and Serenity House in Balsam Lake take a village. Leading those efforts are Duana Bremer, left, director of Social Services for Polk, Burnett, and St. Croix counties, and Grace Place site manager Lori Scheder. 2 / 6
Families utilizing Grace Place find rooms that are completely furnished, most with their own bathrooms. The facility can house up to 64 residents but only has the budget for staff to serve 48. 3 / 6
In addition to the community dining room, Grace Place also has a smaller kitchen and dining area that is available to residents.4 / 6
There are two media rooms at Grace Place -- one for men and one for women which likely leads to fewer arguments over control of the remote.5 / 6
The new Grace Place includes a hair salon which is staffed by a volunteer with years of hairstyling experience. 6 / 6

There is no question about it. Everyone from residents and their families to the staff and the volunteers who helped make it happen, the new Grace Place is wonderful.

The former Maple Manor nursing home in New Richmond opened last fall after extensive remodeling and refurbishing, much of it accomplished through fundraising and 1,000 hours of volunteer labor as well as grants and financial donations.

The building was donated and a capital fund drive raised $275,000, $75,000 more than the original goal. At the top of the list was a mandated sprinkler system and other upgrades. But as anyone who has ever bought an older structure, there are always things that come up unexpectedly -- like the heating which was a much older boiler system that cannot be repaired.

Duana Bremer is the director of Social Services for Polk, Burnett, and St. Croix counties. She opened Grace Place back when it was located in the former St. Anne’s convent in Somerset, did it again with Serenity Home in Balsam Lake and was the driving force in getting a bigger and better Grace Place. She is well known for handling challenges like the new Grace Place has presented.

Bremer said they made do for heat this past winter by utilizing the air conditioning system which could do double duty. “It meant higher utility bills of course and we have to deal with that and a long term solution.” They have been told that a new roof is in the not too distant future. “But we were told we could make some repairs and get by for a while.”

The facility also has some plumbing issues that need to be addressed.

Of more immediate concern to Bremer and her staff is the need for additional funds for staff. Grace Place currently has 48 residents in a facility that can handle 64. There is also a waiting list of 16. The problem is that the budget only has funds to pay staff for 48 residents. “That’s pretty frustrating knowing there are families who need to be here but we just can’t do it.”

The staff at Grace Place includes four full-time and four-part-time employees as well as site manager Lori Scheder. In addition to the shelters, the Salvation Army also has 42 apartments scattered throughout the area that are available to qualified residents with either mental health or addiction issues; half of those units are available for long-term occupancy for chronic cases.

Bremer recalled the story of a family that came to Grace Place not too long ago. The family of six rented a home for seven years when they were given 30 days’ notice that it had been sold and they needed to move.

They moved to a motel until they found another place but before they could, the father was laid off. They eventually had to leave the motel and ended up living in two cars with all their belonging inside.

“They all couldn’t fit in the cars to sleep, so they did it in shifts. Three of them slept while the other three walked around Walmart for several hours,” said Bremer.

The family found Grace Place and stayed there several months. The father got a job and the family has rented a home of their own. Bremer said not all the stories have happy endings but most better than they could have been.

She remembered a man with a chronic addiction to alcohol. Grace Place as zero tolerance for the use of drugs and alcohol and the man accepted that in exchange for shelter. He had nowhere to go and no one to help him.

His health declined while at Grace Place and when he finally had to be hospitalized at the end of his life, the residents he lived with became his family, visiting and sending cards. Upon his death, the staff took care of the final arrangements, searched to find relatives and finally contacted someone who claimed his remains.

“Life here is like it is everywhere. There are happy stories, sad ones, struggles and successes. We just want to help as many as we can,” said Bremer.

The biggest concern facing the Salvation Army and Grace Place right now is the need for financial donations. The “Christmas in July” red kettle campaign is underway. Anyone who can is asked to send a donation today to: Grace Place Shelter 505 W. 8th Street, New Richmond WI 54017.

Donations help keep people clothed, fed and housed in St. Croix County as well as support Grace Place. To volunteer at Grace Place Shelter contact them at (715)246-1222.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604
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