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The Abbey Bettendorf, Iowa

September 1, 2009
by root
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Entrance to the abbey (above); joseph lemon, jr., founder, in the chapel at the abbey
Entrance to The Abbey (above); Joseph Lemon, Jr., founder, in the chapel at The Abbey.

Abbey circa 1915

Abbey circa 1915. In most cases, the conversion of a 95-year-old structure into a working treatment center would pose daunting challenges. Yet, the majestic site of The Abbey in Bettendorf, Iowa, its original design as a monastery for an order of cloistered nuns, and its subsequent renovation into a luxury hotel proved the perfect foundations for establishing a unique treatment center environment.

The building, of course, housed a chapel which continues after more than nine decades as a powerful setting for reflection. A 10-foot wall around the building preserved privacy and solitude for the nuns, yet today offers much-needed security to a community of residential treatment clients.

Stained glass window close-up

Stained glass window close-up. “This is an ideal place for us to do our work,” says Joseph L. Lemon, Jr., founder of The Abbey. “A doctor we work with told us, ‘You're really returning the building to its original purpose, as a place of prayer and contemplation.’”

After the monastery was put on the market in the early 1990s, Lemon's family purchased the 35,000-square-foot building and launched renovations that would establish it as a luxury hotel worthy of a Four-Diamond award. These improvements now serve the building's current occupants well. The guest rooms now are used as private client rooms with private baths, while the former banquet room now functions as a spacious community room.

A guest room

A guest room. Few clients are familiar with the building's rich history and don't tend to express much interest in its past uses, Lemon says. But when they see The Abbey for the first time, whether on the Internet or in person, all are struck by the site's majesty. “The building is a draw to them-it's an iconic structure,” Lemon says.

Since its opening in the fall of 2008, The Abbey generally has housed about 10 to 12 adults at a time in its coed facility, for a typical length of stay of 45 days. The Abbey has drawn its clientele mainly from the Midwest, treating individuals from diverse walks of life. It gives its clients many opportunities for reflection as well as for productive group activity.

The chapel is open to clients all the time, so it often serves as a refuge for a client battling insomnia. A veranda overlooking the Mississippi River becomes a primary spot for congregating during breaks. A private courtyard has a pool and a barbecue grill, but also a vegetable garden where clients learn lessons in self-reliance. “We grow food that we eat,” Lemon says.

The courtyard
The courtyard.

In addition, clients engage in other jobs at the facility, such as groundskeeping duty. Many of the building's amenities were in place during its years as a luxury hotel, but upgrades in areas such as the gym facilities have been initiated since then. Fitness is seen as integral to the client's treatment and recovery: When some clients have initially hesitated to attend a yoga class, Lemon has offered to go with them to ease them into the new experience.

Yoga class

Yoga class.

Lemon says that so far, about half of The Abbey's clients have had a residential treatment experience at another facility. At The Abbey, these clients tend to find a more welcoming environment on their second time around. “People have been happy to be with us, in a less clinical environment,” he says.

“People still have the expectation that treatment will be done in a basement,” adds Lemon, who now sees his past business experience outside the field as having paved the way for a new venture that has been nothing but an ideal fit.

Addiction Professional 2009 September-October;7(5):46-47