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Teen Challenge giving drug addicts a second chance

BY ALESIA EDWARDS Observer staff reporter alesia@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 09, 2012    

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COLIN Taylor was a successful young man in his 30's with a first degree in culinary management and a second degree in hotel and restaurant management. He had a beautiful wife, was in a comfortable job in the hotel industry and was taking home big bucks each month.

But, for about seven years, nothing mattered to Taylor but his addiction to sex, alcohol, parties and drugs. He became withdrawn from his family and spent his earnings feeding his addictions.

"I am a chef by trade, and what I would do on a regular basis is that I would work and all the money that I would earn from work went directly towards my party lifestyle, sex, drugs and alcohol," he told the Jamaica Observer North East.

He explained further, "I was married, I got divorced because of it, I was excommunicated from my family, my brothers, my mother, and my relationship with all the people in my life that mattered just deteriorated."

The now 41-year-old was heading straight for the 'dungeon' until two years ago, after much pleading from his family to get his life back on track, he finally decided to get help.

"I suppose one could call it an epiphany, but I was just tried. I was with a group of people and I felt alone, there was an emptiness inside me that still had not been filled regardless of all the sex, the alcohol, the drugs that I used, and I was tired of living that life."

With the assistance of his ex-wife and mother, Taylor checked into Teen Challenge, a non- profit organisation which helps Individual's suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, where he underwent a year-long transformation programme.

Today, he is an administrator at the facility in Ocho Rios and is passionate about helping others like himself.

Teen Challenge, he said, has changed his life dramatically, and in retrospect, Taylor explained that had he not made that decision he probably would have already died.

Like Taylor, the Executive Director of Teen Challenge, Anthony Richards, himself a graduate of the programme, sees the organisation as that place that offers hope to many men who have lost their way.

"It has helped me, and I know no matter how you see a person on the street, cracked out, dirty, smelly, there is still hope, because I was the same way ... we do not discriminate, anyone that wants change can come here," said Richards, who has been working at the facility for 12 years.

"I came through the programme and was one of the earlier graduates. "I was a policeman and I migrated, got hooked on drugs and became enrolled," he recounted. After much mentoring and coaching work at the facility, he was appointed to the top post five years ago.

Richards' work and leadership continue to transform the lives of men who pass through the 30-bed facility at Shaw Park in Ocho Rios. Last month, he was recognised by the St. Ann Chamber of Commerce and awarded the prestigious Citizen's Award.

"People are recognising the ministry," he said of the faith-based programme where a lot of emphasis is placed on Christian principles, although persons from any religion can be enrolled.

Richards said Teen Challenge boasts an impressive success rate of over 70 per cent, which he attributes to the Christian principles and other values that are instilled in the students during their 12 to 18-months' recovery period.

"A person living in addiction for 10 or so years, and for 12 months they experienced a new life, they really wouldn't want to go back to it and most do not go back," Richards.

He explained that the centre is recognised as a facility based organisation and the participants are trained through HEART/NTA and certified in food preparation and business administration. Plans are afoot to expand carpentry which is now taught in a limited extent at the facility.

Additionally, students are involved in farming and other micro businesses. A new facility which is being constructed at Hadden in the parish, Richards said, should see participants becoming more involved in farming.

"Our main goal is to do greenhouse farming, we are in the process of exploring ways in which we can develop other industries, and we intend to do pig farming, chicken farming, bee-keeping and other things in the short term," he explained.

The facility is not funded by Government, and Richards wants to make the facility self-sufficient.

"We believe that with able-bodied men, Teen Challenge should not depend on an offering from a church or depend on people to give or to invest in the ministry," he said, adding that the skills acquired by the participants should help them to tre-integrate into society.

Meanwhile, plans are in place to expand the Teen Challenge Women's Programme which was reintroduced last September.

Richards' wife Barbara, who oversees the programme, said the six female students currently enrolled, and who are fighting various addictions, are taught basic math and English, computer, sewing and jewellery making, in addition to the faith-based programme.

"HEART Trust/NTA is on board with us as well, so we do administration and food preparation as well," she said.

She explained that in the medium to long term the programme will be able to accommodate more girls when it relocates to facilities at Shaw Park in that town.

Meanwhile, the Richards want more people to support the facility's vision of facilitating life transformations for people with life-controlling problems, one person at a time.

"When an addict leaves the street and their live is transformed, it does well for government; for example, the tourist industry will have one less person harassing them, the police will have one less person looking for when person's homes are broken into, so we really are helping the entire country by transforming one life at a time," Richards said.

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