Pledge drive underway for teen rehab expansion

Monday, October 23, 2006
An artist's rendition depicted a planned three-story dormitory that would house 200 Teen Challenge students. (Submitted image)

When organizations ask for money toward expanding facilities it's easy to ask, 'what's wrong with the buildings they have?'"

Visitors to the faith-based rehabilitation campus of Teen Challenge International of Mid-America are not likely to ask that question.

Located off County Road 621 near Cape Girardeau, Teen Challenge is in the midst of a pledge drive to raise $2.35 million for a new academic building, dormitory wing and activity center on their rural campus.

The organization received a $233,940 donation in July from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Okla., to go toward expanding its campus.

Jack Smart, executive director of the facility, said as a condition of the Mabee Foundation grant, the remainder of the funding must be secured by April 15, 2007.

And while Spartan accommodations are expected at any drug rehabilitation facility, the teetering shack serving as the study hall and the dank, dusty weight room are not much to look at.

"We're really trying to fulfill two needs, we need to improve our facilities first of all and expand our capacity so we can help more people," said Stan Crader, a member of the Teen Challenge steering committee for fund raising.

Smart laughs looking at some of the buildings on campus. "You've really got to be dedicated to lifting weights to want to go in here," he said, gesturing to the weight room.

The academic building is no better. Cold in the winter and leaky when it rains, the facility was built in 1981 out of 95 percent recycled demolition material. "It deteriorated fairly quickly, you've got to understand our students come from difficult backgrounds and some have lived on the street, so they're pretty difficult on facilities," said Smart.

But outdated and worn down classrooms have not held the group back.

Teen Challenge is a 36-year old organization that ministers to men addicted to drugs and alcohol. One study by a Northwestern University researcher found this program that emphasizes Christian teachings and Bible scholarship has a more than 70 percent success rate of keeping its graduates of the program off drugs.

Men at the local campus come from induction centers in Hot Springs, Ark., St. Louis, Kansas City and Cleveland. The total program from induction to the local "training" level lasts 14 months.

A key element of the rehabilitation is the scriptural studies the men do individually and at their own speed, much of it on audio CD. The new academic hall will have larger space for study carrels for 200 students and a lower level classroom where 70 can sit for lectures.

The proposed activity center will give the men a place for basketball, weightlifting and volleyball and will also provide a venue to hold special events.

"Last year for Thanksgiving dinner I think we served 300 people in the cafeteria. We were crammed in there. You could get to your table but you had a pretty hard time getting to the food," said Smart.

A three-story expansion of the dormitories will allow Teen Challenge to house 200 students, up from a current capacity of 138.

"In a way it's too bad we have to expand, because that means there's an need or an increase in the people we serve," said Crader.

But Smart would much rather see men with chemical dependencies come to his program than go to others.

"I actually just got an e-mail from a woman looking for a spot for her nephew. He filled out the application but while he was waiting to get in another opening came in a 28-day program so he went there and as happens too often, it didn't take him long before he got back out and he was using again," said Smart. "So it's good to get as many guys in as quickly as we can."

The expansion is not a done deal. Officials are still $425,000 short of their $2.5 million goal. Smart is hoping to begin bridging the gap at a Community Gifts Kick-Off at 7:30 a.m. Nov. 2 at the Cape Girardeau Country Club.

335-6611, extension 245

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