Pulling Lives Up from the Gutters

The Teen Challenge Story
Published in In Other Words – 1998
Copyright David N. Walker 1998

“Your sister is dead, and your mother needs you,” was the message relayed to me in church one Sunday morning. Kay never saw her fiftieth birthday, finally losing a battle with drugs that started when she was a teenager.

Velma’s story took a different direction. Velma was introduced to alcohol by her mother and grandmother at the age of ten. By the time she finished the sixth grade she dropped out of school for the excitement of life in the streets and bars. She lived in the “fast lane” for years, frequently dating or living with men who sold drugs.

By the time she was thirty-two, peer pressure had pushed Velma into trying first cocaine and then heroin. Finding that the high from the cocaine didn’t last as long, she ended up on heroin.

As her addiction progressed, Velma found that she couldn’t hold a job. She also increasingly isolated herself from her family. Through the years she tried several treatment programs that did not work. Finally, in 1993 she was at her wit’s end. Losing both her apartment and her furniture and having nowhere else to turn, she decided to try Teen Challenge just for a roof over her head.
It took about eight months for Velma to become truly submitted to the program and its disciplines. She was born again about that time, and her new-found spiritual life began to fill the life-long voids that had led her to drugs and alcohol in the first place. She took seventeen months to graduate instead of the routine twelve, since she wasn’t really committed at first, but Velma has been totally drug- and alcohol-free, as well as free from cigarettes, since 1994. She is now on the staff.

The Fort Worth facility is part of Teen Challenge’s nation-wide ministry which was founded in 1958 by David Wilkerson, the author of THE CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE. It ministers in a residential treatment setting to people of all ages who are addicted to drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

When Larry Adley came here in 1975, the ministry owned the property where it now operates, but it was just being used for bible studies. Larry and his wife Larice founded the present residential program for female addicts. Billy Paul Brown, his assistant director, came in 1983.

Operating on an infinitessimal budget of around $200,000 per year, they maintain a staff of eleven and provide full-time residence for thirty to thirty-five women, as well as keeping up a main building which provides housing and classrooms for twenty-one and a satellite building which provides housing for an additional ten women who are in re-entry – working their way back into society as they secure jobs or return to school. This works out to a per diem cost of $17.67 per person, based on an average of thirty-one residents.

By comparison, a recent article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported average daily costs for long-term residential care to be $49.00. According to the same article, Cenikor spends $16,000 a year, or $43.83 per day, and Lena Pope Home had to close its treatment facillity because it couldn’t find funds to cover its $232 per day costs. The psychiatric hospitals can run several times this much.

Many of the ladies who enter Teen Challenge’s program drop out within the first four months or so, especially during the first week when they are trying to adjust to not smoking, drinking or using their drugs. Those who make it through four months normally graduate.

Several years ago the Department of Health, Education and Welfare did a study on TEEN CHALLENGE . The study dealt with men and women who had been graduated for seven years or more and found that 94.7% of the former heroin addicts were still drug-free. Also, 66.7% of former alcohol users did not drink, 73.6% of ex-smokers still didn’t smoke, and 66.7% of those who had used marijuana no longer did so.

Most drug treatment programs are aimed at drying the addict out or replacing the drug of choice with methadone. TEEN CHALLENGE aims to change lives and lifestyles by the Christian experience of being born again and to allow the Holy Spirit to fill the voids which formerly required drugs or alcohol to fill. This is what allows it to be so successful.

The Fort Worth facility is for women, but there are men’s facilities around also. FORT WORTH TEEN CHALLENGE (817/336-8191) can provide the locations and phone numbers of these other facilities.

My own experience with FORT WORTH TEEN CHALLENGE came some eleven or twelve years ago when I became involved in trying to help get treatment for a young lady in our church youth group. She was rebellious and suicidal and was kicked out of TEEN CHALLENGE once for failing to follow the rules, but she eventually graduated and lives a normal life today. How often I’ve wished that my sister Kay had submitted herself to the TEEN CHALLENGE program. She might still be alive today.


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