By DOUG LIVINGSTON
Within three hours of his release from the New Castle Correctional Facility, Mark Moore Sr. was standing in the residential hallway at Ohio Valley Teen Challenge.
“The camaraderie, the love,” said Moore, a heroin addict of 29 years making his second visit to a Teen Challenge center, as he described his welcome. “I knew I was home.”
Home for New Castle native Moore and 42 other drug- and alcohol-addicted men is 1319 Florencedale Ave. on Youngstown’s North Side. The community surrounding the center reflects the very elements that put these 43 men into the rehabilitation program: heroin dealers, crack houses, crime and poverty.
“With this neighborhood — phew,” said OVTC intern and Youngstown resident Ron Strait, motioning to the buildings outside. “Right over here, over there, about six places right within a seven-block radius — drug lords.” While nearby Wick Park anchors a revitalization discussion for Youngstown’s North Side, six of the 10 homes that line Broadway Avenue are boarded up.
It’s similar to what surrounded the first Teen Challenge center, founded by Dave Wilkerson in 1958. In the crime- and poverty-stricken streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., the first center was built to combat drug addiction and the advent of street gangs among the youths. Teen Challenge has since grown to incorporate 242 national facilities and more than 1,000 worldwide. It also facilitates the rehabilitation of women and children.
It’s essentially a labor of love for the 15 staff members and six interns who run the Youngstown site. The total payroll is nearly $210,000. As part of the rehab, the men enrolled in the OVTC program work as many as seven days a week.
“Working here ain’t a job,” said director of operations Bob Pavlich, who runs the expansive work program. “No. 1: They don’t get paid. No. 2: They don’t get a day off.”
The men’s labor affords them a safe place to sleep and three meals a day. The money raised through the work program, along with donations, funds the facility’s overall $390,000 budget.
OVTC leaders are pleased at the growth the program has experienced in its first 19 months. In the first six months of 2010, the work program revenues totaled more than $100,000; $155,000 was budgeted for the entire year.
“We can give the community a service in a capacity that has never been done,” said Bruce Paulette, a volunteer for the group.
From Heinz Field to the Covelli Centre, the OVTC team works security at concerts and football games. Mahoning County employs the men to landscape vacant properties. The in-house catering service delivers boxed lunches and provides banquet dining. A carwash is open on Meridian Road nearly every day. Officials said the work program gives the men dignity while restoring the community.
But work is only part of the program.
When Mahoning County Judge R. Scott Krichbaum was first introduced to Teen Challenge, he was a young lawyer seeking an alternative to jail for his clients. He worked closely with Youngstown native Kevin Rauch, who is now OVTC program director.
“He and I had common interests because he was willing to offer some sort of rehabilitation for my clients,” Judge Krichbaum said.
After sending his first client to Teen Challenge facilities as a lawyer nearly 30 years ago, Krichbaum now sends men to OVTC as a judge.
“They’ve always been successful with people that I represented and the people that I’ve sent there,” he said. “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a problem with anybody I’ve sent there, either, as far as violating the program.”
After dealing with his own troubled past, Rauch pulled men from the streets, jails and courtrooms of Mahoning County and placed them in Teen Challenge centers across the nation. His Greater Youngstown Teen Challenge Crisis and Referral Center closed its Mahoning Avenue operations in 2008 and shifted to what is now the OVTC site.
It was then that Executive Director Roy Barnett took on the task of creating a residential facility and secured a rental contract from Frank Vennes, a former Minneapolis Teen Challenge board member. Vennes had OVTC in mind when he purchased the former Youngstown Osteopathic (Cafaro Memorial) Hospital for nearly $73,000 in 2008.
For an initial payment of $1 a month, OVTC rented a wing of the building that had been abandoned for nearly a decade. Already tenants in other parts of the building were MYCAP, Safehouse and a minority drug-abuse counseling program.
And OVTC inherited all the problems that came with an aged building.
“I was really overwhelmed,” Barnett said. Repairs and amenities were needed before the building could house residents. To meet the requirements for occupancy, the building first needed a kitchen. The price: $150,000.
“How much money do you have?” Paulette recalls asking.
“None,” Barnett answered.
“Well, either you or Jesus has a sense of humor,” said Paulette.
Barnett said that within a week of securing the contract, “People came out of the woodwork.”
Area churches donated money. Pittsburgh and Detroit Teen Challenge centers pitched in. Beds, tables, chairs, couches and desks were donated by the Lincoln Behavioral Center. Appliances, tools and clothing are donated almost daily from local business owners and citizens. And the kitchen: Hope For Youngstown, a former foundation that provided homes for the needy, donated $111,000 for deep fryers, grills, prep tables, ventilation hoods and a lavish walk-in freezer and cooler.
No one expected the program to take off so quickly. Paulette was a cynic when OVTC officials asked for his help more than 18 months ago.
“I figured it was going to be another project that would be good for the Valley that wouldn’t happen,” Paulette said.
And in 19 months, 166 men have made that same journey as Moore through the residential hallway. When men are admitted, they undergo a rigorous search. Any drug or fluid containing alcohol is taken. One man’s boxer shorts were confiscated. When he asked why, the staff member pointed to the beer logo printed on them. While vulgarity is strictly prohibited, the men carry on with the demeanor of wisecracking altar boys.
The guidelines are essentially created by the men and enforced by the men. If there is a rule, it exists because someone broke it before it existed. Still, the place is rife with chaos and mischief.
If you can think of it, residents have done it -- from sneaking out windows to sneaking in drugs.
“The best actors ain’t in Hollywood,” Pavlich joked. “They’re running around the streets of Teen Challenge, and I was one of them. I’ve won Grammys. I’ve won Oscars for the stories I’ve told and the acts I’ve put on.”
While it takes several people, from directors to counselors to 11 board members to operate the center, the residents are the lifeblood of the facility, said Barnett.
“It takes the biggest bunch of sinners to run Ohio Valley Teen Challenge.”
This story continues Thursday in The Vindicator and on Vindy.com.
The NewsOutlet is a joint media venture by student and professional journalists and is a collaboration of Youngstown State University, WYSU radio and The Vindicator.