Nearly 900 attend Teen Challenge berry festival

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The 15th annual Strawberry Festival held Saturday at Teen Challenge International of Mid-America in Cape Girardeau County was an opportunity for the public to see how the drug rehabilitation program serves 150 men.

An auction, field tours, drawings for free strawberries, a hayride with resident testimony, puppet shows and performances by a choir and a Christian bluegrass band entertained 865 visitors.

Administrative assistant Bev Breithaupt said about 70 percent of operating costs are funded by private donations and the remainder generated by student work.

That work includes mowing, strawberry farming, cutting and selling firewood, crafting handmade furniture, apple picking for Pioneer Orchard from August to October and doing odd jobs for the community.

Jimmy Clark, a 21-year-old resident, said the daily schedule begins at 5:15 a.m. during strawberry season. Workers are in the fields from 6:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Residents who arrive at Teen Challenge have already been through a four- to six-month induction phase that includes Bible study.

Breithaupt said, "This phase also gives them time to clear their system because no alcohol, drugs or tobacco are permitted on the premises."

Clark, now 21, faced a five-year prison term before coming to Teen Challenge.

Things began to fall apart for him when his parents got divorced and his grandfather died. "I didn't feel loved and started hanging out with the wrong crowd," he said.

By 17, he was making money selling drugs. By 18, he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. He even began rehabilitation and stayed sober for a while, but at 19 he was hit by drunken driver on the way home from an AA meeting. He started using again and ended up in jail for violating probation.

"Then when I was told I'd instead be going to Teen Challenge, it was like a miracle in the courtroom," Clark said.

Clark said he is looking forward to graduation in three months and wants to go back to school.

Teen Challenge's first center opened in New York in 1960. Students were enrolled in the Cape Girardeau County program by 1970. The program's name has remained the same even though men aged 18 to 50 are accepted and the average age is 27.

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