Teen Challenge makes a difference

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Teen Challenge operates by blending in well in our community.

That's saying something, considering there are 127 recovering drug addicts and alcoholics enrolled in the program. The Christian-based facility quietly goes about the business of healing at its rural complex just north of Cape Girardeau.

Although its successful rehabilitation program doesn't have a high community profile, there are other ways Teen Challenge is known in our area.

Many Cape Girardeans come into contact with Teen Challenge through its lawn service. Teen Challenge workers mow lawns and rake leaves to raise money for the program.

Then there is the annual strawberry sale. On a good year, Teen Challenge residents will pick and sell approximately 18,500 quarts of the succulent berries grown on the program's property. The annual Strawberry Festival draws hundreds of visitors.

And the Teen Challenge choir performs inspiring patriotic and Christian songs at various events. They sang during vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney's visit to Cape Girardeau in 2000.

But the organization gets a chance to really shine, and to explain to the public what it's all about, at the annual Teen Challenge International Mid-America spring banquet. This year's event in Cape Girardeau was attended by 620 supporters. A similar banquet also was held in Carbondale, Ill.

Supporters know Teen Challenge isn't just about mowing, growing berries and singing. Those are ways to make money, raise public awareness and keep the program alive. Teen Challenge is about teaching spiritual and practical knowledge so graduates can be successful.

Despite its name, the average age of Teen Challenge students is 26. They attend chapel several times a week and pray daily. They receive regular pastoral counseling, attend classes and have time to earn a GED if they don't already have a high school diploma. All the courses are Bible-based.

Many of the men who enter the Teen Challenge program do so rather than face jail sentences or prison. And the program boasts a 70 percent success rate, meaning most of those graduates don't return to lives of substance abuse.

Cape Girardeau County is fortunate to have a location of the successful program here. It is a compelling example of how incorporating God into recovery makes a difference.

It behooves local residents to give the group wholehearted support, both in words and dollars. There's no need to wait until the strawberry sale to do so.

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