Known as Crack Alley for more than two decades – receiving notoriety even in national press – it was one of the first places on the East Coast where the highly addictive drug hit the streets.
Today, a transformation has occurred at the intersection of Third and North streets in Seaford. Where drugs, alcohol and shootings were once commonplace, now men are transforming their lives thanks to faith-based Delmarva Teen Challenge.
Most of the renewal stories are truly miraculous. Consider the story of Todd Sauer, a 26-year-old homeless addict living under a bridge in Wilmington. Facing jail, his father heard about Teen Challenge and talked his son into joining the program.
“He came to us with a beard down to his belly and he smelled; he was in rough shape,” said Executive Director Bob Carey. “But Jesus took hold of him. He graduated from the program, joined a church in Laurel, became a youth leader and got engaged.”
He has a full-time job and a new home in Milford.
“To think that in four years he has gone from living under a bridge to starting his own family is a miracle,” Carey said.
Carey said that is one of more than 100 stories that show the power of the program. “We've had local drug dealers go through the program who are now dealing Jesus,” he said.
Program is faith-based with strict discipline
Don't be fooled by the name. Delmarva Teen Challenge is a residential program for men 18 and older who are suffering from addiction. For many, it's the last hope.
Carey said the program is the most successful in the world; 86 percent of those who enter the year-long program stay off drugs to reestablish their lives.
“We are about putting families back together,” he said.
He should know; Carey is a recovering addict who went through the program 21 years ago. He said he drank his way to the gutter, lost a good job at DuPont and ended up on the streets in Baltimore. Some Christians befriended him and guided him to a Teen Challenge program in Capitol Heights, Md., where he was transferred to Detroit Teen Challenge, now Life Challenge of Southeastern Michigan.
“They taught me about a man named Jesus and his great sacrifice and love for me. That I could actually be forgiven for all my sins, foolish decisions, and the pain I had caused my family. That I could have a new beginning. I immediately repented and asked Jesus to come into my heart. I realized from that moment on I would never be the same,” he wrote on the Teen Challenge website.
Carey said what sets the Teen Challenge program apart is its faith-based approach to recovery. “It's based on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said.
Carey said the name goes back to the start of the program more than 50 years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y., aimed at adolescents. It's since changed to offer services to adults with some facilities still providing programs for teens, as well as women. Today, there are more than 400 programs in the United States and more than 1,100 worldwide; all are self-sustaining and are subject to annual inspections.
Students attend the Delmarva Teen Challenge for one year; 17 students are currently taking part in the program open to men throughout the region. The average age of students in the local program is 32. Fifteen other students have been sent to Teen Challenge in Detroit.
Students follow a strict daily regimen that includes going to class four hours a day Monday-Friday with homework and report cards. “It's part home, part boot camp and part Christian school,” Carey said.
Students are not permitted to leave the property unless on a supervised activity such as weekly visits to testify and provide music ministry to area churches. Their TV viewing is screened; there is a strict dress code; and profanity and smoking are not permitted. Living quarters would rival any military barracks.
Students do outreach work by going door-to-door throughout Delmarva talking about the program and giving their testimonies. Students also have daily chores and work to support the program's fundraisers and events. Students provide a car wash each Saturday, and Sunday afternoons are devoted to family visits.
Carey said strict discipline is necessary to set students back on the right path. “There is a lot of accountability here. We are firm, but it's tempered with love,” he said. “Our mission is a personal relationship with Christ. We introduce him to them and over a year, they encounter him.”
Delmarva Teen Challenge, with a staff of 15 and a host of volunteers, has an annual budget of $400,000 totally financed by donations. More than $1 million in donations has been given to the program. Volunteers – including teachers and preachers – provide hundreds of hours of service each month. Thirty groups are signed up to cook dinner each night.
Several interns, who are graduates of the program, are housed at the facility and work for six months. Others who work for the program are housed in a transitional facility across the street from the original building.
Program's roots are in tragedy
Over the past 13 years, Teen Challenge has slowly been purchasing property on Third and North streets. “Four crack houses have been shut down since we have been here,” Carey said.
But the roots of a program in the area go back much further, to 1992 when the son of the Rev. Isaac Ross, a well-known preacher and City of Seaford employee, was killed in an apparent drive-by shooting. Several concerned residents called that the breaking point and launched an effort to curb the violence and take back the neighborhood. A year later, the group spearheaded an effort to purchase the notorious Hideaway Lounge, and by 1996 the Seaford Mission opened its doors.
The mission and a men's dormitory built in 2000 operated for eight years until Teen Challenge came on the scene to take over the program. In 2009, the group received an anonymous donation of $300,000, the largest donation to date.
Larry Manlove of Seaford, who was one of the residents who joined with Ross to start the mission, is still involved as treasurer of Delmarva Teen Challenge. It's a labor of love to Manlove. “People are seeing real evidence here. Lives are being transformed. They are so many phenomenal stories one right after another,” he said.
Teen Challenge keeps eye to the future
Carey said a major goal, to expand the program in a 5,000-square-foot community services and education center, is nearing reality. Workers – many who are students – are applying the finishing touches to the two-story building that sits where Crack Alley once was. Carey said the facility should be open within a month and will include a chapel, prayer room, counseling rooms, interns' apartments, an administrative office and education rooms.
Carey said the new facility will free up much-needed space in the program's existing buildings.
Carey said the next goal is to open a women's program, which is needed as much or more than the men's program. The program would mirror the men's program for single women and single women with children 6 years old and younger.
“Because of abuse and drugs, we would have three times the number of requests we get from men,” Manlove said.
And, Carey said, they would like to construct a two-story apartment building on the property to provide housing for graduates.
Delmarva Teen Challenge receives no federal funding and relies on fundraisers, grants and a successful thrift shop on Middleford Road in Seaford for its funding. Over four years, 133 men have graduated from the program. “They really don't want to leave,” Carey said.
Some do stay around and work for the program as interns and some have become paid staff.
Most of the students have jobs before they graduate from the program. “The community has wrapped its arms about this group, and Christian businesses gobble them up,” Manlove said.
Carey said he can sum up the reason for the program's success in one word: “Jesus,” he said.
Reality hits close to home
Even as lives have been restored, a heavy dose of reality hit home. A woman was recently run over by a car in the vicinity of the Delmarva Teen Challenge facility in a drug deal that may have gone bad; the case is still under investigation and charges have yet to be filed. The irony is that Teen Challenge staff had been working with the woman, an alleged prostitute, to get her into an out-of-state women's program. Executive Director Bob Carey said the incident shows the need for a women's program. “She didn't want to leave town,” he said.