Women struggling with drug addiction have few recovery options in downstate Delaware.
But it won't be long before they will have the same chance at recovery experienced by hundreds of men who have gone through the residential Delmarva Teen Challenge program based in Seaford.
Final renovations are taking place at the Teen Challenge Home of Hope complex off Rifle Range Road near Bridgeville. The center contains two, two-story dormitories, a multipurpose sanctuary and an administrative office with classrooms. It will offer 35 beds with intensive faith-based programming and counseling over a 12- to 15-month period.
The 90-acre complex was once the home of Cedars Academy, a facility for troubled teens.
Teen Challenge Executive Director Bob Carey said the board backed the project with one caveat. “They wanted us to raise the first year's $300,000 operating budget,” he said.
The organization is seeking 300 people, organizations, businesses or ministries to pledge at least $1,000 a year through the Gideon's 300 Ambassador program. Carey said as soon as the goal is reached, the center can open. He's hoping that occurs before this summer.
Carey, staff members and volunteers hosted an information session and tour of the facility Feb. 1. John Hollis of Seaford served as moderator of the session.
Buildings have been gutted and are renovated inside and out, with new security cameras, 70 new windows, a new HVAC system and a donation of siding. A local Eagle Scout has taken on a project to construct a $20,000 playground.
Each dormitory has a modern kitchen, dining room, activity room, computer room, bathrooms, washer and dryer, and cribs for young children.
A faith-based program
Carey said the faith-based program opens a new world to people who suffer from addiction. “They realize their relationship with Jesus Christ is the answer and solution,” he said. “I've seen lives transformed immediately. People get stuck in a cycle, and they can't get out by themselves.”
Since the Seaford program started nine years ago, it's experienced the same 86 percent success rate as the national program.
Over the past nine years, 205 men have graduated from the program with an average age range of 28 to 32 years of age. When the program started nearly 60 years ago in New York City, it was designed for teens, hence the Teen Challenge name.
Since the center opened at the site of a former crack house in Seaford, women have been turned away because of a lack of funding and a facility. Funds from donations, a capital campaign and a successful thrift store have helped make the new center a reality. Carey said $1.2 million has been raised over the past three years during the center's capital campaign.
“People are crying out for help. That's why this center is so important,” said Lauren Vanaman, a Teen Challenge volunteer who is chairwoman of the capital campaign and director of corporate services at Trinity Logistics in Seaford.
A harder road back for women
Vanaman said according to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, one-third of addicts seeking treatment in Delaware are women, with most between the ages of 25 and 34.
She said there are 95 residential beds in Delaware for women addicts. Most are 30-day programs with a three- to six-month program in Harrington. “This is not nearly enough. Every three minutes a women enters an emergency room with a drug issue,” she said.
Vanaman said all addicts have a very hard journey back, but it's particularly difficult for women. “Many have been abused without having an element of love,” she said. “We have to show them they have value in society so they can start to build their lives and walk away from addiction.”
In addition, she said, many are prostitutes so they can feed their habit. “There is no nurturing for them,” Vanaman said.
Carey said there are six women's houses in the U.S. and this will be the first one on the East Coast. Women will be allowed to bring their children under age 6 to the center, where specialized programming will be provided for both children and mom.
Pregnant women will also be allowed in the program.
“For most, they will have to learn to love their child all over again,” Carey said.
Carey said while counseling and programming will be similar to what occurs at the men's Teen Challenge center, it will be adapted for women and their special needs.
“This campus is not a halfway house, not a mission and not a shelter,” Carey said. “Our only focus is on drug addiction. This is not should we do it, but it's a must. We have to do it.”
The program incorporates live-in staff and interns who will not only provide supervision but assist with classes and programs on life skills, self-esteem, cooking, cleaning, relationships and budgeting.
Four staff members are Teen Challenge graduates of women’s centers.
Ambassadors support the center
Hollis, and his wife, Linda, are among Gideon's 300 Ambassadors. He said 35 women will be able to find the health and wholeness they are seeking.
Hollis said he recently spoke with Gov. John Carney expressing the importance of the new center. “I told him in one year we will show you results that the cycle of addiction did not beat us, but that we beat the cycle through the power of the successful Teen Challenge program,” he said.
He said it will be his mission to spread the word about the program and reach out to other potential ambassadors.
For more information about Teen Challenge or donating to the Home of Hope program, phone Carey at 302-629-2559 or Vanaman at 302-396-4916.
A spiritual path to recovery
In a poignant video, a local young heroin addict shared her recovery at a Home of Hope in Detroit.
“Every day was a replay of the last day – a cycle of pain and emptiness,” she said. “I had become someone I didn't know or like. I saw no light at the end of a very long tunnel.”
It was her mother who suggested the Teen Challenge program, one she entered in April 2015.
“Slowly, I asked Jesus into my heart with an attitude of gratitude. I began to see the work of God all around me,” she said.
Without the program, she said, she would be dead or in prison. “Jesus Christ saved my life,” she said.