A look at Ohio Valley Teen Challenge's christian based drug and alcohol abuse center on Youngstown's north side.
Broken Lives Final Chapter || Some are saved
Story Published on November 7, 2010
For some, life has a new beginning
On the last Friday of every month, the men of Ohio Valley Teen Challenge wrap up their workday a little early.
They swap their work boots, basketball shorts and cutoff T-shirts for a suit and dress shoes. With a fresh shower, shave and a splash of cologne, they head to church to commemorate the graduation of their brothers who have completed the yearlong rehabilitation program.
“Graduations are always real special for the guys,” said Kevin Rauch, program director.
He still remembers his graduation 28 years ago.
“My high school diploma didn’t mean as much,” he said. “Your [teen challenge] diploma will not keep you drug and alcohol free. It’s just a reminder.”
It’s a reminder of the lives they have led: Stealing, lying, illicit sex and excessive drug and alcohol use.
It’s also, more importantly, a reminder of the last year they have spent sober — and the hope of sustaining sobriety.
After graduating, the men are encouraged to enter the ministry. About half do. Continued involvement in the church is crucial to remaining sober in the months and years after Teen Challenge. Just attending church holds them accountable.
“The first time we missed church,” Cindy Rauch, Kevin’s wife and OVTC staff member, said, “He [Kevin] was devastated.”
Teen Challenge has grown from a simple concept planted in the streets of New York City more than 50 years ago. The organization and its founders wanted to provide an alternative to drugs and alcohol for young men and women.
More than 240 centers across the nation help men, women and youth battling with, and affected by, addiction.
“It’s not a program. It’s a relationship,” said Roy Barnett, the OVTC executive director.
The relationships and partnerships of Barnett, Rauch and Bob Pavlich, director of operations, are the foundation for OVTC. Their immediate mission is to expand the work projects.
In the first six months of 2010, OVTC’s work programs earned more than $100,000. What work projects don’t cover of OVTC’s annual $390,000 budget is made up by fundraisers and donations from various churches and community organizations.
“We’re overcrowded in our kitchen right now,” Barnett said. The bustling upstairs kitchen is home of Hope Catering, which provides boxed lunches, catering for banquets and meals for the men.
Equipment has been purchased for a downstairs kitchen. With two kitchens, OVTC can provide daily lunches for children in the Head Start program as well as Safehouse and Heart Reach, which already receive OVTC’s lunch services.
With growing operations, officials would like to see the number of beds increase. A $20,000 renovation of the south wing of the second floor would provide rooms for resident staff members, freeing up their beds in the men’s residence hall to bring in yet more men. Barnett doesn’t see the renovation, which will increase capacity from 48 to 64, happening for a year.
“You have to have money to do that,” he said.
Teen Challenge outreach centers are planned for elsewhere in the Mahoning Valley — inside the Eastwood Mall in Niles and at the Faith Chapel Fellowship in Salem.
Along with providing support for domestic, drug and alcohol abuse, volunteers and Teen Challenge staff at the outreach centers will work with local courts, Administrator Cathy Barnett said.
OVTC board member and founder Bruce Paulette is eager to see these centers open and functional.
Paulette said the Valley has a major problem with drug-addicted women who have affected children. The new centers will provide counseling and referral for these women and children.
With all its growth, a shadow looms over the residential facility near Wick Park on the city’s North Side.
The renovated building is currently in receivership pending an investigation of its owner, Frank Vennes.
In Minnesota, the government is investigating a Vennes associate for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme. Vennes’ assets, including the old Cafaro (Youngstown Osteopathic) hospital that houses OVTC, have been placed under the control of a group of lawyers until the matter is resolved.
Who will own the building is as much a mystery as who will remain in the program long enough to graduate. It will stick with some men, but it won’t with others.
John Kelly, a troubled man from Boardman, was referred to OVTC by a friend already enrolled — Dave Clementi, who would become the facility’s first graduate earlier this year.
Kelly ignored Clementi’s invite last year and took off to Las Vegas. He eventually found his way into Teen Challenge. He just needed to lose everything.
Kelly’s three-month stretch in Las Vegas spanned women, nightclubs, gambling, drinking and drugs. It was the height of his struggle with addiction.
“I was just feeding this bottomless pit in my heart,” said Kelly, 25.
He endured the strict, yearlong regimen at OVTC and in July, joined Clementi as an OVTC graduate. Clementi and Kelly now sit together in the pews at New Life Assembly of God in Poland, the same church Kelly attended as a child.
When Jesse Repko graduated June 25, his graduation portrait was placed on the wall with 10 others. With only 11 portraits, missing are the faces of the 100 men who never finished the program.
One of the faces missing is Repko’s brother, Aaron.
Though Jesse finished his internship at OVTC and is now a crew foreman for an Austintown company that restores homes, his brother Aaron was thrown out of the program in late September.
Two days after his OVTC expulsion, he was still at the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley, where OVTC staff had delivered him. Aaron had failed an OVTC nicotine test. It was his fifth and last write-up.
“I just made compromises,” Aaron said. “I didn’t want to obey the rules.”
Aaron said he regrets being one of the many men he had seen come and go over his eight months at OVTC.
He wishes he had completed the program. He was nearly there.
“Four more months,” he said, “is a cake walk.”
This is the conclusion of a seven-part series in The Vindicator.
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.