November 25, 2012

Teen Challenge: Changing lives through hope and healing

Teen Challenge helps students on the road to recovery


---- — JOHNSON, Vt. — Gilles Gentley works alongside students every day seeking addiction treatment, helping them restore relationships through the grace of God.

As an admission coordinator at Teen Challenge Vermont, he fulfills one of the program’s motivating mottos and assists addicts forging a new path down the road to recovery.

“Hope lives here, freedom is found here, and changed lives leave here,” reads one of the many inspirational quotes scrolled across the organization’s website.

Gentley, 37, travels to high schools all over New England and New York with a group of students enrolled in the treatment program.

Together they present the Making Good Decisions course, designed to remind teenagers there is no gray area when it comes to drugs and alcohol. 

“Make decisions today that you can live with tomorrow,” they say.


Newly enrolled students seeking treatment in the Teen Challenge program also share important messages of faith and hope with local church congregations.

“When you come into the program, you are part of the choir ministry (that) travels around to various churches, and (you) sing songs and talk about what God has done in your life,” Gentley said. “They have traveled everywhere.”

For the past seven years at the Johnson, Vt., campus, Teen Challenge advisers such as Gentley have welcomed men age 18 and older, helping them get their lives back on track after battling with addiction. 

The residential, faith-based drug and alcohol program is available not only in Johnson — the center closest to the North Country — but also throughout the country. About 200 recovery homes for people of all ages, along with community-outreach programs for children and youth, are in operation nationwide, according to the Teen Challenge website.

The Brooklyn-based program was established on a national level in 1958 by the Rev. David Wilkerson, founding pastor of Times Square Church in New York City. It is one of the oldest and largest addiction-treatment programs in the country, providing intensive help with life-controlling problems.

There is a women’s campus in Rhode Island and an adolescent girls’ academy in Massachusetts.

Each site has as different cost for treatment; at the Vermont campus, it costs about $1,000 a month or $33 a day, Gentley said.

“There are scholarships and other financial assistance available for those that qualify,” he added.


The Newport, Vt., native sought addiction treatment at the Johnson campus after spending years battling addiction.

”I was involved with drugs for 17 years and had done all the drugs and was doing everything that I could do to try to stop,” he said. “I tried many times to get right, but nothing worked.”

His family begged him to get help and persistently recommended Teen Challenge.

”I finally tried it in August 2006 and came in on the 30-day plan,” Gentley said.


He thought 30 days would be all he needed to get clean and get out.

”Well, I found something here that I had been searching for, for all those years.  Here I am six years later, and they can’t get rid of me,” he said.

Now, as a staff member, the genial Gentley said he still enjoys watching others find their faith within the program.

“Originally, it started with one or two people; now we are up to 36 students and 15 staff members,” he said.

And requests for help continue to come in.

“(The need) is definitely increasing. Right now, we are in the middle of putting on a new addition to our building, and we are installing a new septic tank,” Gentley said.

According to new findings released by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, millions of people sought treatment for addiction in 2011.

The findings revealed that last year, 3.8 million people aged 12 or older — about 1.5 percent of the population — received treatment for a problem related to the use of alcohol or illicit drugs.


Right now, the center is at capacity, but the staff always does its best to accommodate someone seeking treatment at the picturesque campus.

“In the past (when we were full), we had a student who was due to complete the program who voluntarily transferred to another campus to allow someone else to come in,” he said. “There’s a real spirit of brotherhood and camaraderie.”

Students spend 15 months learning how to break the cycle of addiction through the application of biblical principles.

After an early start to each day, they work on devotions, discipleship training, work projects, chapel services, Bible study and recreational activities.

“The curriculum we follow is kind of tailored to each person’s needs. Some people have different character defects or something they struggle with, like anger, that they may need extra work on,” Gentley said.


Treatment for drugs and alcohol are the biggest reasons most people come to the campus, but Gentley said they also provide assistance with addictions like gambling.

“But I think the most common substance abuse now is prescription painkillers,” he said.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health study, the non-medical use of prescription drugs among youths age 12 to 17 and young adults age 18 to 25 in 2011 was the second most prevalent illicit-drug-use category, behind marijuana.

At the Vermont campus, Gentley said, students participate in programs aimed at accepting oneself, growth through failure, relapse prevention, coping with temptation and anger.

While students must be 18 or older to be accepted to the program, there is no age limit to fight addiction.

“The oldest man I’ve ever seen complete the program was 78 years old,” Gentley said.


Teen Challenge Vermont also works closely with the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to provide rehabilitative, faith-based services to qualifying inmates.

“We have been working together for five or six years now,” Gentley said.

The prisons originally provided five beds for prisoners who were found to be a good match for the program, but the number has doubled to 10 since earlier this year.

“If an inmate is eligible for parole and both their caseworker and DOCCS officials approve, we do an interview with the potential candidate,” he said. “If they are a good fit, we can take guys out of jail and they can come stay on campus.”

The individuals are immediately enrolled in the 15-month program but are welcome to leave should they decide it’s not for them.


All students who complete the program have the opportunity to participate in a six-month internship.

“They are able to then work in a mentoring capacity with some of the new people,” Gentley said. “But at the 12-month mark, all students are required to set up an exit plan. We work alongside some businesses who will hire someone, on occasion, just out of the program.”

People come from across the country to the Vermont campus to find peace in the Green Mountain setting.

Gentley is not sure why students from Albany to Alabama travel to Johnson, but he is definitely glad when they decide to stay.

“I think some people go to a map or they’ve looked on the Internet, and they think, ‘That looks nice,’” he said. “Maybe they’ve always wanted to go to Vermont. 

”Not all centers are like ours. We are just lucky to have a really beautiful location.”

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Teen Challenge New England will be at First Assembly of God, 164 Prospect Ave., Plattsburgh at 10:30 this morning. 

There will be special music by the Teen Challenge Choir, testimonies and scripture. 

Everyone is welcome to attend. Call 563-5799 for information. 


To learn more about Teen Challenge Vermont or to apply to the program, call the center at (802) 635-7807 or visit The national Teen Challenge website can be found at