Bob Carey has come a long way from living on the streets of Baltimore.
With a little help from the man upstairs, Carey has turned his life around and is now an inspiration and role model for the men – and soon women too – suffering from addiction and enrolled in the Delmarva Adult and Teen Challenge program.
Carey is a success story of the program, having gone through it himself in Michigan 25 years ago.
"I had a problem with alcohol and then it went into cocaine," he said. "I had gone into Warwick Manor, several other 30-day programs and just could not stop. I could stop, but I couldn't stay stopped. I was taking another lap around the desert constantly."
Carey hit rock bottom in Baltimore.
"I was drinking four fifths of Thunderbird wine a day and panhandling," he said. "I was passed out on the street. Someone found me and took me to Mercy Hospital, where I was for 10 days."
He was then sent to Teen Challenge in Michigan.
"It was there in my brokenness I surrendered," he said. "I surrendered to not drinking. Then I was sitting in chapel and heard a message. God transformed my heart. Ever since then, I haven't had a desire to drink, drug, anything that's inherently counter to the Lord."
He credits God with birthing a passion in him to help people. He stayed in Michigan for another 13 years, attended Central Bible College and worked at Life Challenge in southeastern Michigan. "Then God spoke to me again and told me to take what I learned there back to Delaware," he said.
He returned to Delaware nine years ago with one man to help him. He set up in the old Seaford Rescue Mission at Third and North streets in Seaford, adding three others from the rescue mission to the staff. "That's a real notoriously bad area," he said. "It's a crack alley, with drug dealing and prostitution."
Since opening, Delmarva Teen Challenge has graduated 215 men, 93 percent of whom are still sober. The documented success rate for Teen Challenge worldwide in its more than 1,200 centers is 86 percent. "Seeing a life transformed, seeing marriages restored and relationships with children restored, that's my paycheck," he said. "I breathe for that. I want everything that this program has afforded more for other people."
That will soon include women too. Later this year, Delmarva Adult and Teen Challenge is planning to open a campus off Rifle Range Road in Bridgeville to help women 18 and older. "God gave me a vision to help women because of the streetwalkers down in Seaford," he said. "We were getting a lot of calls pertaining to women 18, 19 and above. Some of them we could send out of state to other Teen Challenges, but others couldn't go because they were on probation or parole. They were stuck in limbo."
With the idea firmly planted in his brain, he got to work. A realtor showed him a 90-acre site, formerly Cedars Academy for troubled teens. It had four existing buildings and plenty of privacy. The only problem was the owners wanted $1.9 million.
"We were just a little nonprofit," he said.
Although ideal, he had to move on. A year later, the realtor came back and said the owners were willing to take $1.2 million. Still too much, he turned it down again. "I brought my board out here just to look at it," he said. "They liked it, but obviously we didn't have the money."
The owners came back a third time and dropped the price to $750,000. It was getting closer to their price range, but still too much, so Carey countered with an offer of $500,000, and the owners took it.
A local businessman fronted the money to buy the land with the stipulation that he'd be paid back in nine years. Two years later, little progress had been made in fixing up the buildings and raising the funds to pay back the loan.
Then the businessman called Carey into his office. Carey thought it was bad news, but it was just the opposite. The businessman said he believed so much in Carey's mission that he planned to turn the loan into a dollar-for-dollar grant. If they raised $500,000, he would tear up the loan and Carey would owe nothing.
Three days later, another donor stepped up and donated the entire $500,000. When they open this fall, they will be debt-free with some money in the bank. "It's a miracle of faith," Carey said. "I'm not a businessman. I just pray. God does the rest."
The new women's campus, called Home for Hope, will be able to house 34 women and about 12 children in a safe and healthy environment. They will accept single women, pregnant women and women with children under 6 with addictions issues. They will undergo a rigorous yearlong program designed to change their lifestyle through faith-based curriculum and counseling.
The campus features two dorms, each with large kitchens, dining room, activity room and bedrooms for both single women and women with young children. There is also a chapel and an administration building.
Carey has managed to accomplish all of this while caring for and supporting his wife, Cristina, who is terminally ill and has been undergoing chemotherapy for the last 11 months. The couple met in church in Annapolis.
"It was love at first sight," Carey said. "I had never been around somebody who had such remarkable virtue and character, and it drew me to her." They have three children aged 18, 22 and 23. The two oldest have each graduated from Bible college.
Carey's work takes him to a different congregation every Sunday, spreading word about Teen Challenge and how it can help those in need. "From being on the front line, drugs have been winning, but there's hope," he said. "We are making inroads into people's lives and families' lives. Each man who comes into our program represents a family, which represents a part of the community. And with 215 graduates, there's an army out there that's making inroads."