Meeting the challenge

Monday, December 18, 2006
Gary Gooch, left, and Alan Pike made components for bench swings Friday in the woodworking shop at Teen Challenge. (Fred Lynch)

A common bond of battles with drug and alcohol addiction brought three very different men to Cape Girardeau almost a year ago.

For 10 months, the men lived at Teen Challenge -- a faith-based drug and alcohol recovery program off County Road 621. It was at Teen Challenge where they learned how to overcome their addictions and how to put their faith in Jesus Christ.

At the end of October, Elias Kihyet, Harold Catha and Ryan Niffin graduated from Teen Challenge.

Each believes his life has changed. But outside the walls of Teen Challenge, each has discovered the world hasn't changed much. Their old temptations are still there, and they're reminded of that every day.

"It's definitely been a struggle, and it's going to continue to be a struggle," Niffin said from his family's home in Springfield, Mo. "I do think it's going to get a lot easier as time goes on."

Niffin struggled with methamphetamine and crack cocaine addiction. He wound up with a seven-year prison sentence at the Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center in Fulton, Mo., but was released to Teen Challenge after spending one week in prison. The day he was released, Niffin, 23, was told he was the "luckiest man to walk through the Department of Corrections in the state of Missouri."

When he completed the Teen Challenge program, Niffin moved to Lee's Summit, Mo., to live with his father. While he was in the program, his parents told him they were getting a divorce. Within a week of Niffin's release, his parents decided to work their problems out and get back together. Since then, Niffin has moved to Springfield, where he and his father own a home repair and remodeling business.

"In Teen Challenge it was real easy to stay sober, but being out it's been hard to make decisions on your own," Niffin said. "I've been doing real good though -- I haven't touched any drugs or alcohol."

Both Kihyet and Catha chose to move to the Mercy House, a Teen Challenge re-entry station in Mississippi.

Bro. Wayne Soemo, assistant director at the facility, said he advises men to move into a re-entry program after they complete their 10-month stay at Teen Challenge.

"We find there is much better success if they go to a re-entry program rather than going back home," he said. "The biggest struggle if they go back home is seeing old familiar friends or old familiar places."

Niffin knows he can't hang out with his old friends, even though he still cares about them.

"When you want to change your life, you have to change everything and that includes your company," he said.

When Kihyet completed the Teen Challenge program on Oct. 27, he moved into the Mercy House -- the place the 18-year-old began his recovery more than a year ago. Shortly after he arrived, Kihyet was offered a job as staff member at the Mercy House. He's oversees men who clean a nearby church.

"It's been hard to see some of these guys because they are just coming off the streets -- they are who I was a year ago," he said.

The job at the Mercy House keeps Kihyet busy, which helps keep his mind off drugs and alcohol.

"I've been faced with several opportunities to drink or smoke a cigarette, but I haven't done that. I've been doing really good, and I'm not going back to the way I used to live," he said.

Catha completed the Teen Challenge program on Nov. 23. He then moved to the Mercy House, where he will live as a re-entry student for the next six months.

During his stay at the Mercy House, Catha will volunteer at the center's car wash for two months.

"After we volunteer for awhile, then we can start looking for jobs. We owe it to the Lord to give something back," he said.

The 37-year-old Catha hopes to find a job in landscaping at first, then he wants to further his education at a Bible college. He also wants to be a good father to his 7-year-old daughter Lucinda.

When he completed the 10-month stay at Teen Challenge, Catha spent a week with Lucinda.

"At first I could tell she was a little distant but as we talked, we grew closer. I asked her what she wanted me to do differently in my life, and she said to pay more attention to her," he said. "That will be the biggest priority in my life -- my daughter."

Catha knows his own recovery with addiction will be difficult, but he hopes the lessons he learned at Teen Challenge will help him along the way.

"Jesus Christ and his love for us is what I learned at Teen Challenge," Catha said. "I now understand Jesus wants us to love him and follow him. He will be there to help me fight my desires of drug and alcohol cravings."

The success rate, or number of men who stay sober after the program, at Teen Challenge can be a difficult thing to measure, Soemo said. Teen Challenge figures 70 to 80 percent of the men will stay completely sober after they finish the program.

"It's hard to measure, and it's not scientific," Soemo said. "It's hard because how long of a time do you look at? One year, five years? Also, do we say it's a success if someone doesn't do cocaine but takes a drink of alcohol?"

When Catha, Niffin and Kihyet walked out the door at Teen Challenge, Soemo knew he may never hear from them again. The Christian-based organization tries to follow up with the men each year in November, Soemo said.

"I'm always pleased when we hear from them again," he said. "We always say the pay isn't much here but when we see the guys doing well, that's our pay."

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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