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When John Blaufuss checked himself into the Germantown Teen Challenge Initiative years ago, he was hoping that the program would be the help he needed to get his life in order and not be dependant on drugs and alcohol anymore.
Two decades later, he can confidently say the program was a success for him. Not only is he clean and free from drugs and alcohol, but he now works as a manager for a branch of the program, right in the same facility he committed himself into.
“It’s not a safety net being here,” Blaufuss explained. “It’s an open choice. I like where I live, I have credibility in a program I find valuable, and I want to help others the way that my teachers and aids helped me. I’m 16 years clean, and it’s not scary anymore.”
The program Blaufuss credits so much to is Teen Challenge Philadelphia, which was founded in 1964 to serve both men and women from all walks of life. While the program requires a commitment to establishing a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ, people from any sort of ethnic, religious or economic background can be welcomed into the program. Founders of TCP want to remind people who are having problems and need help that recovery can be easier and more fulfilling by establishing a relationship with the Lord.
“We care for those who care enough to change” is the slogan used throughout the facilities, which in this area include two gender-separated 20-bed facilities on Wister and Schoolhouse lanes. The Germantown-proper areas are technically phase-one facilities, meaning entry-level commitments into the Teen Challenge program, which, although referred to as Teen Challenge, accepts people of all ages.
All city branches throughout Pennsylvania, as well as in other participating states, are the phase-one centers. Initial year or years are spent there, and then those looking for further intensive help can go on to Lancaster Induction Center in Rehrersburg, Pa. That facility, referred to as the STAY SHARP Program Presenter, is the official headquarters of the Teen Challenge program.
The entire program was initially started in 1958 by Rev. David Wilkerson, a young pastor in eastern Pennsylvania. After reading an article in Life magazine about seven teenagers who were on trial for murder for a gang fight in Manhattan, Wilkerson found himself troubled and felt a need to do something about it.
He ventured from his hometown of Philipsburg, Pa., all the way to New York City to work full time with teenage gang members. This new work was eventually called “Teen Challenge,” and as Wilkerson found more people to work alongside him. The program grew to also offer help to those addicted to drugs and alcohol.
In the time since, Teen Challenge has grown to more than 170 centers in the United States. The story of Teen Challenge is told in the best-selling book, “The Cross and the Switchblade,” published in 1963. The book was a best seller with more than 15 million copies distributed in over 30 languages. Additionally in 1970, a film adaptation was released, starring Pat Boone as David Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz, a gang member whose life was reformed due to Wilkerson’s ministry and Cruz getting involved in the Teen Challenge program. A comic book adaptation of the story was also released in 1972, published by Fawcett Comics under their Spire Christian Comics label.
Blaufuss likes to talk about how the Germantown-based section of the program has some of the highest success rates of the entire Teen Challenge program, citing around a 70 to 80 percent rate of success. In the entire history of the program, many different studies have been done to test successes overall and in specific locations.
Richard Dodridge, the director of Teen Challenge Philadelphia, is the best informant for past and present statistical information about the program. He refers all research back to the first intensive study done testing the program, which was a government study in 1975 sponsored by the National Institute of Health. The study followed the graduating class of 1968 from the Rehrersburg branch for seven years, or students from the second-phase program. The class was 250 people of varying ages, and the results showed that a whopping 85 percent of graduates were still drug free in 1975.
The stipulation of this specific study, as pointed out by Dodridge, was that second-phase students are allowed by their state facilities to be considered “successes” if they are off of hard drugs. The patients are allowed to consume a six-pack of beer and cigarettes per week. As the program has grown and shaped itself, it has now become a stipulation of the phase-one programs that participants can only be considered clean if they abstain from all alcohol, drugs and nicotine.
A 1992 study by professors at the University of Chattanooga in Tennessee found a 70 percent success rate for students completing the program, following the current phase-one rules of no alcohol. This particular study followed graduates from the 1990 class over a two-year period. It was supported additionally by a study performed at Northwestern University, which studied students from phase-two sections of the program and cited a 68 percent success rate.
Dodridge himself was never a participant in the program, as Blaufuss was, but he still takes great pride in the continuing success of the program decade after decade.
The current program works on a daily pattern of rising between 5:45 a.m. and 6:15 a.m., followed by devotions, Bible readings and chapel. As students go throughout the program, they earn privileges, including doing various chores throughout the residencies, earning free hours outdoors and working in businesses that raise money for the program and charity. In Germantown, the business that participants get involved with is the New for You Thrift Store, located on Germantown Avenue. The non-profit store raises money to help run the residence houses. Blaufuss is the manager of the store.
“We receive the merchandise as donations from the community, and advertise mostly through word of mouth and church/radio advertisements,” Blaufuss explained. “Additionally, we do choir outings and outside testimony sessions, but most business in the area is just done in the store.”
Teen Challenge Philadelphia is a bright star among the entire Teen Challenge International program, based off of the hometown pride from founder Wilkinson and having some of the strongest success rates in the entire history of the program. Blaufuss is a prime example of someone who truly found himself through accepting the rules and regulations asked by the program heads, making the best of it and loving it enough to stay involved and devote his life to it.