Teen Challenge of the Smokies (TC) is working hard to combat addictions in teens, young adults and adults.
Terry Teppert, director of the newly opened Sylva Teen Challenge facility, said that TC is dedicated to helping anyone — not just teens — with a serious addiction and a serious desire to change. “These people are seen as the modern day lepers,” Teppert said. “Alcohol used to be the drug of choice that was viewed as hopeless, then it was marijuana, then it was cocaine and then meth ... but TC believes that as long as there is breath in their bodies, there is always hope.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2007, 21.1 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 needed treatment for alcohol or illicit drug use. A survey taken in 2000 showed that 568,000 people 55 or older had used illicit drugs (most commonly marijuana), within the previous month of the survey and more than five million people were binge drinkers, including more than one million that were regular, heavy alcohol users.
Many recovery programs are available, however, the most effective programs are those that don’t just help people with addictions, but rather those that teach people the tools they need to make a complete lifestyle change. TC is one such organization with a high success rating for stopping addictions and changing lives.
TC is a non-profit, 12-month program where students are free to leave at any time (being in the program is on a voluntary basis), but of those that stay and complete the program, independent studies have shown that those students have an 80 percent chance of totally changing their lives. A short term rehab process gets the chemicals out of the student’s system but doesn’t address the decision making process.
“What makes TC different from other recovery programs is the short term versus the long term. Short term programs get people off of their addictions, but what TC does is try to look at the underlying causes of their choices and change those so that they won’t make those wrong choices again,” Teppert explained.
TC is a faith-based organization that reaches addicts through the “Jesus Factor.” Steve Crabtree of Franklin says that “they use the gospel to change lives.” The moral principles of the Bible are usually so radically different than anything an incoming addict has ever known before. And those principles have the power to lead people to Christ and to affect change from the inside out. Teppert had been a hardcore atheist when he hit rock bottom.
“I was 45 at the time, and what I discovered while I was going through TC was that they weren’t a bunch of religious zealots or a cult of some kind. They didn’t do anything but love me unconditionally and showed me that that is what Christ came to live and die for,” he said.
Peggy Phillips is the volunteer secretary for the new TC facility in Sylva. She says that she is willing to drive 40 minutes each way and volunteer for 40 hours per week on average because her son has successfully gone through the TC program and that is priceless. “I got my son back,” Phillips said. “TC is a great program. My son is proof that it works ... it really works. That is why I volunteer.”
Talks began about a year ago between TC and a nonprofit organization called the Evergreen Foundation for the location of the Sylva facility. The building that TC was looking at had previously been a mental health residential facility, at 144 Falls Circle, but had to be closed due to financial cutbacks to the mental health system.
“The Foundation was a little apprehensive about us approaching them about getting the building,” said Teppert, “because we are a faith-based organization. However, they decided that there were not enough programs in this area for substance abuse so they were willing to work with us and they based their decision on our results not our methodology.” Finally an agreement was reached and volunteers began preparations to move into the building. On May 4, 2011, TC brought in the first student to the center.
Teen Challenge was begun by David Wilkerson, a young preacher in Philadelphia who recognized the need to help gang members and addicts in New York City. Through his efforts, TC was begun and has grown to more than 200 facilities across the nation and 1,000 facilities across the globe in 87 countries. Wilkerson was killed in April 2011 at the age of 79 in a car accident in Texas. Wilkerson’s brother is now in charge of operating the TC ministry.