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Teen Challenge Helps Local Teen Conquer Addiction

By Stephanie Malench

smalench@timestribunenews.com

Drugs are a real issue, with effective treatment normally being very expensive or a long wait for a short stay.

Teen Challenge is a drug treatment center birthed out of the Assembly of God Church by Pastor Wilkerson in Hammond, Indiana, in the 1970s. Recently the program was renamed the Adult and Teen Challenge due to the number of adults that were needing help coming clean from addiction and is open to anyone 18 and over who has completed a medically supervised detox program for 2-3 days.

Adult and Teen Challenge has a men’s program located in Pekin and a women’s center in Carlinville. Both centers operate on private pay and donations, no insurance. Residents are only allowed to leave the campus with family from noon to 4 p.m. on a Saturday every six weeks. Upon returning, the resident has to have anything possessions they bring back checked by the staff and pass a urine test to make sure there are no drugs of any kind in the system.

The Christian-based program lasts 11 months or more, and boasts a 60% success rate due to its length and submersive environment. Residents of the program are required to attend Bible study, go to various churches in the area to sing in the choir and collect donations on Sundays, and work at local businesses to help bring money in to support the program.

New Rivers Assembly of God Church in Maryville and Pastor Kevin (Bubba) Wilson have sponsored two teens from the area to go into treatment.

One graduate, Phillip Merinda, plans to use his 13 month experience to help others. Merinda, 21, decided it was time to get help after having abused prescription drugs such as Xanax, fentanyl, and oxycodone as well as marijuana throughout high school. He realized his life depended on it and approached Pastor Wilson for help.

After 5 days at Christian Hospital North for detox, Wilson drove Merinda to the men’s campus then located in Chicago at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Merinda then spent the next 13 months (he had to stay an extra 2 months for being caught with a Xanax) with mostly the same men. Being in one building all day every day with the same men proved to be the hardest part of Teen Challenge, along with being homesick since it was his first time away from home.

On the flip side, Merinda said “those are the guys that keep you going” and compared the experience to military boot camp and having your “brothers” there to support you.

Now that he has graduated, Merinda is attending Southwest Illinois College to become a substance abuse counselor. After graduating from high school with only a 1.5 GPA, Merinda maintained a 3.5 GPA his first year at SWIC.

Merinda said most addiction treatment centers look for employees who have had an addiction and overcame it and “I don’t want to go through this struggle in vain and not be able to help others”. He has already been offered an internship at Adult-Teen Challenge when he is to that point in his schooling.

In the meantime, Merinda talks about his experience with various groups in the area, most recently Triad High School’s “Adulting Day”. Merinda was part of a Q&A panel that discussed what life is like after high school.

To learn more about Adult-Teen Challenge go to www.teenchallenge.org.

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