OZARK, Missouri — Adult & Teen Challenge leaders have long recognized they don’t have the capacity to treat everyone on site who needs help with life-controlling issues, especially drug and alcohol addiction. With over 7,000 available spots in 200-plus residential facilities, Adult & Teen Challenge is just one of various agencies seeking to help the 20.4 million self-reported addicts in the nation to recover.
“We can’t solve the addiction problem with brick and mortar,” says President and CEO Gary W. Blackard. “We’re not going to add or build that many beds in the United States.”
Expanding nonresidential programs became one of Blackard’s seven objectives when he became the leader of the U.S. Missions department more than two years ago. That is becoming a reality with the imminent implementation of the ministry’s nonresidential program: Ready Now Recovery.
Longtime U.S. missionaries Jimmy and Yvonne Oakes joined the staff at the national Adult & Teen Challenge office in Ozark, Missouri, last August to lead the strategic rollout.
“For years we have known that the majority of individuals with life-controlling issues are unable — they cannot or will not — to enter a residential program for treatment,” says Yvonne, 52. She notes that studies consistently peg the ratio at 90 percent. For many, the length of treatment (Adult & Teen Challenge stays frequently last a year) is a deterrent.
Such a commitment isn’t feasible for many, according to Oakes.
“They may be a single mom or a functional addict who needs to keep a job because the family depends on the income,” she says.
Still, such individuals need help, and Oakes believes the new nonresidential plan is the answer.
“Some individuals don’t need to go into a residential program, but they need accountability, community, and education,” she says. “If we can provide that in an hour or 90 minutes a week to maintain their recovery, we will make an impact.”
While nonresidential treatment has been a priority for Blackard from the beginning of his tenure, the presence of COVID-19 during the past year has only hastened the urgency. The novel coronavirus has restricted the number of clients some centers can accept. At the same time, the loneliness, anxiety, and depression accompanying the disease has worsened the drug addiction problem in multiple locales. A recent study attributed a significant increase in overdose deaths in 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe God is positioning Adult & Teen Challenge for significant growth and impact in addiction and recovery over the next few years because of the rapid increase in suicides and overdoses as a result of COVID,” says Blackard, 52. “Our goal is to help people see the idols in their lives and replace those idols with the love, joy, and peace of Jesus Christ.”
Currently, many church-based nonresidential recovery efforts are based on one of two programs: Celebrate Recovery or Living Free. Typically, each meets in a church setting once a week.
Celebrate Recovery started 30 years ago at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. In group settings, interaction between peers usually is restricted.
Living Free likewise began three decades ago in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and is a program with Assemblies of God roots. Living Free includes 29 different topics and covers addictive conditions — not only drugs and alcohol — but also areas such as co-dependency, anger, depression, and grief.
Blackard believes Ready Now Recovery draws the best from both: the thorough training of Celebrate Recovery and the Christ-centeredness of Living Free. Ready Now Recovery adds several other components with its built-in alumni network and outreach capabilities
Currently, Jimmy and Yvonne Oakes are in the process of training two dozen facilitators across the country who already have been vetted. Ready Now Recovery will launch formally in July. Blackard says the goal is to have 500 active programs functioning across the U.S. by 2025.
Groups will meet both in person and virtually — using the ministry’s Sober Peer mobile app platform. The Sober Peer app monitors participants and tracks data daily that partakers enter about interconnected psychological, emotional, and social issues. The app, introduced last year, focuses on individuals who aren’t ready to be part of a residential group or who need ongoing support after graduating from Adult & Teen Challenge.
The facilitators will be developing a team in local communities, as well as utilizing the Sober Peer platform for virtual groups. Participants only need to pay a nominal fee for curriculum.
“A lot of times people in recovery may need more than one physical meeting a week,” Yvonne says. “So, the virtual platform allows them to join a group on other days.” The virtual platform also will have options for coaching, counseling, and referrals.
Some who see the benefit of nonresidential assistance eventually may decide they need an in-treatment stay, she says.
The holistic approach of Ready Now Recovery has five basic components: spiritual growth, social development, emotional intelligence, addiction education, and practical life skills.
“There are many tools for recovery,” Yvonne says. “While we need to focus on a solution, it’s also necessary to identify the problem: the nature of addiction. The truth of transformation offers freedom.”
“Every human being deals with some form of addictive behavior over his or her lifetime,” Blackard says. “Coffee, food, shopping, gambling, pornography, sex, technology, drugs, alcohol, and many other elements create mental dependencies. These behaviors are exploited due in part to our sinful nature.”
HELPING AT THE GRASSROOTS
Blackard says Ready Now Recovery will be flexible at the field level as to how long group members stay. Some may believe that a 90-day interaction is enough, while others may want to keep going to meetings a couple of years.
Groups normally will have 8-10 participants, plus a pair of facilitators. Leaders, the vast majority of whom will be unpaid volunteers, must complete various online courses in a 90-day certification process. Facilitators are being recruited, while others are volunteering.
“We’re looking for those who feel called, those who are passionate about helping the vulnerable population,” Blackard says. “We want proven leaders in the community, but they don’t have to be pastors.”
Jimmy, 56, notes that some pastors are seeking training in an effort to help congregants who need addiction counseling.
“But we prefer facilitators to be laypeople,” Jimmy says. “While we want pastors to be aware, they have enough on their plate.”
Nevertheless, Yvonne says attendees will understand the religious nature of meetings.
“We talk about being a faith-based organization at every meeting,” she says. “We pray, read the Bible, and apply scriptural truths.”
Gatherings will occur in both churches and neutral community locations — for those who may be averse to stepping across the threshold of a religious institution.
A community outreach component will be part of each group, such as distributing meals to the homeless or assisting with a school improvement project. Such efforts are designed, in part, to build relationships with people who may need recovery help, but are skeptical.
“With outreaches at places like food pantries and pregnancy care centers, we want to invite those who are there to consider joining a group,” Yvonne says.
Jimmy and Yvonne Oakes have served as U.S. missionaries for 19 years, most of that with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. For much of the past six years, the couple have developed 13 nonresidential programs at various locations in Arkansas in conjunction with Teen Challenge Adventure Ranch near Morrow.
Photo: Yvonne Oakes (left) and Jimmy Oakes (right) have joined Gary Blackard at the national Adult & Teen Challenge office.