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Giving hope to addicts

John Castellani is director of Teen Challenge International, USA, an Assemblies of God ministry designed to help people of all ages with life-controlling problems such as drug and alcohol addictions. Castellani spoke recently with Dan Van Veen, Home Missions editor, for the Pentecostal Evangel.

Evangel: How did you get involved in Teen Challenge?

Castellani: I got involved as a board member at the Teen Challenge Training Center in Rehrersburg, Pa. I wanted to be in a supportive role leading people to salvation as well as helping them toward a better way of life. When the executive director’s position in Rehrersburg became vacant in 1989, the board asked me to fill the position. I became director of the Teen Challenge International, USA office in 1997.

Evangel: Does Teen Challenge only minister to teens?

Castellani: Many centers throughout the United States are geared to reaching adult men and women. We also address drug and alcohol prevention in schools. We have learning centers to tutor and monitor youth after school.

Evangel: I understand that sometimes courts send criminals to Teen Challenge.

Castellani: In some centers, a number of the students are there because they have been ordered by the courts to either go to jail or to participate in Teen Challenge.

If the judge knows about Teen Challenge and has a working relationship with the director, he can give the individual the choice of Teen Challenge or jail, based upon available space.

Presently, we are in a private prison in Tennessee. The warden has given us a pod for 20 prisoners. We will mentor 40 men in a 12-month period – prisoners are in the pod for six months. This will cost Teen Challenge $40,000 to $50,000 per year. To do the same thing in a Teen Challenge residential program would cost $480,000 per year.

Evangel: What criteria does Teen Challenge use to determine success?

Castellani: On average, Teen Challenge centers have a 70- to 86-percent success rate for those who complete the program. Our determination of success is defined as a person who no longer uses drugs after completing the program. One research project used seven years after graduation; another, two years after graduation.

Evangel: How is Teen Challenge funded?

Castellani: All funding is private — raised by the centers. However, some government help comes through food stamps for the student depending on the state where the center is located. The only other funding sometimes available is for helping students receive their general equivalency diploma.

Evangel: Where do Teen Challenge graduates go?

Castellani: Graduates go to a Teen Challenge re-entry program, do an internship at Teen Challenge, or return to their family responsibilities and get involved in a local church. Some go to college to become ministers and missionaries. Some join the military and many work in secular drug rehab programs.

Many centers now have alumni systems to maintain contact with graduates.

Evangel: What can people do to support Teen Challenge?

Castellani:Pray. Volunteer at a center to help with mailings, fund-raisers, driving students to appointments. Support the program financially by introducing Teen Challenge to foundations and corporations. Some employers have matching-funds programs where they match every dollar given — sometimes $2 for $1, or even more.

Many Teen Challenge centers have hookups for RV volunteers who travel and do plumbing, carpentry and office work.

Evangel: If a reader knows someone who has a life-controlling problem, how can he/she get help for that person?

Castellani: Call a Teen Challenge center near you for advice, contact your pastor or a church support group. Or you can contact the national Teen Challenge office at, or 417-862-6969.


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