Local pastor heads effort to reclaim troubled youths
Terri Caruthers' yard required several hours of work after a storm blew through Baldwin City about a month ago.
"My Walnut trees had blown down," Caruthers said. "There were branches everywhere."
She said while standing out looking at the mess, her pastor's wife drove by.
"She asked us if the guys from Teen Challenge could use the trees for firewood," she said. "So we were just planning to cut it all and leave it for them to pick up later.
"But it wasn't 20 minutes later that this truck pulls up and all these boys get out and start cleaning up," she said. "Soon it looked like nothing had ever fallen. They really saved us a lot of work. It was just a blessing."
The guys that helped Caruthers were from Teen Challenge.
"We are a program that deals with individuals with life-controlling issues," the Rev. Mark Halford, executive director of Teen Challenge, said. "It's a Christian, Bible-based program with an intensive disciplined-structured residential environment."
Halford, who is pastor of the New Life Assembly in Baldwin City, said Teen Challenge is a world-wide program, which began in 1958, that helps men and women of all ages who have drug and alcohol addictions or other problems.
The headquarters for the Heart of America Teen Challenge of greater Kansas City is in Baldwin.
As part of the Kansas City-based Teen Challenge, Halford works with a group of seven young men ages 16 to 21. He said the men live in Lawrence under 24-hour supervision for four months, then they are transferred to Cape Girardeau, Mo., for 10 months where they will complete the program.
"It's one of the most successful programs in the world that deals with drug and alcohol addicts," he said.
In Lawrence, the men begin their day at 6 a.m. Halford said they attend Christian development classes until noon. The afternoons are spent on work projects, including a firewood business, around the Lawrence, Eudora and Baldwin areas.
There are also room inspections and study hours every day.
"It's a very structured, but loving, compassionate environment," he said. "They go through this so they can be an overcomer instead of one of the overcome."
Halford said many of the men he has seen in the program come from broken homes and troubled pasts.
"One of the things these guys have to change in here is their way of thinking," he said. "They have to realize that they do not have to be governed by their past."
When the guys change their ways of thinking, Halford said he's seen them change as individuals.
"The bottom line, we emphasize personal relationships with Jesus Christ," he said. "We see dramatic change. Jesus changes lives."
Along with helping change the people enrolled in the program, Halford said Teen Challenge benefits communities as well.
"These are young people with a lot of energy who are able to work," he said. "I think it's good for people to see that even though these are men with addictions or even possible criminal pasts, that they are still doing some good.
"There is hope and God does change lives so they can function in today's society," he said.