Originally created 09/29/03

Program offers people with drug problems hope at new future



MACON, Ga. -- A new faith-based rehabilitation program is offering hope to men with drug problems.

Teen Challenge, which serves men 18 and older, opened over the summer in Macon. The 21-bed facility serves as an induction point to the one-year program in Laurens County.

While running a day center for the homeless in Macon, Benny Leverett met Mitch Melton, who runs the Laurens County program 60 miles away. Their discussions led to the crisis intervention center in Macon.

Melton and Leverett are quick to point out that no program can help until a drug addict is committed to change, but they hope to offer a way to a new life for those people who come in their door.

The Macon center gives men the chance to see if they are ready to solve their problem before they are fully inducted into the program in Laurens County.

"It brings some stability to them before they get into a more intense structure," said Melton, a former cocaine addict who credits his recovery to a similar faith-based program. "In the first two or three weeks, they have the opportunity to clear their minds before they make a decision."

The Teen Challenge concept is a 43-year-old ministry that began with a country preacher's efforts to help young gang members in New York City. It has 170 centers nationwide and 250 worldwide.

At the Macon center, residents wake at about 6 a.m., take religious and academic classes in the morning, do chores in the afternoon, then study in the evening. And they do various jobs to help pay their way.

Residents cut grass, do steam cleaning, chop wood, wash cars and just about anything else to help support the facility. The induction fee is $500, a fraction of what most one-year programs cost.

The remainder of the $5,000-per student annual cost is made up by donations from churches, businesses and individuals, and the funds generated by the work program.

Jeff Allred, 38, of Livingston, Tenn., entered the Macon center two weeks ago hoping to kick his methamphetamine habit.

"This program will work if you stay with it," he said. "I kept knowing in the back of my mind that this is where I needed to be."

Leverett believes that even addicts who have resorted to living on the streets can be productive members of society again.

"There are some great talents and great minds who have just taken a bad turn," he said. "Anybody who wants to get help can come by here or call us."