Alternative to jail program fighting to survive

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A faith-based diversionary program for non-violent drug offenders is struggling to stay afloat. Youth Challenge of Hampton Roads is an alternative to jail designed to help people with addiction rebuild their lives.

Despite the name, Youth Challenge participants are adults, primarily men in their 20s and 30s. The 17-month program combines scripture with work skills, and the treatment is 14 courses of forcing addicts to confront their problems.

“Different issues that addicts deal with. Bitterness, unforgiveness, authority, accepting, loving others and accepting yourself,” said program director Travis Hall.

Youth Challenge has 15 paid staff members, and Hall is one of 12 who graduated from the program. Hall’s story of addiction, like many others, was a journey with increasingly darker demons.

“I started out with alcohol and marijuana as a teenager, and it just escalated,” Hall recalls. “Cocaine, LSD, and then once crack hit, ultimately it was crack cocaine that just tore everything apart. I lost everything.”

Youth Challenge provides construction, landscaping, moving services and auto repair for a fee. Hall says the proceeds go back into the program to pay bills and provide treatment.

Reverend Troy Collier founded the program in 1979. Hall says the organization is still trying to get used to life without its beloved leader. “We certainly miss him. We still are kind of mourning.”

Youth Challenge is privately funded, and those funds are running out. Its aging, steam-heated headquarters – the former Peninsula Catholic high school – needs ongoing maintenance and renovations, and the agency has a $4,000 monthly mortgage on its thrift store on Jefferson Avenue.

“We’re struggling, we’ve got some serious financial concerns and of course we have for the past few years,” Hall said.

Hall says the lender and the city are working with Youth Challenge on mortgage and tax payments, but he knows the grace period will eventually end. “If the donations don’t increase and our funding doesn’t increase, then we may have to make some tough decisions.”

Hall says the fees for his agency’s services are lower than contractor rates, and when people utilize them, they’re helping Youth Challenge as it fights to survive. “You’re gonna pay somebody to paint your kitchen. You’re gonna pay somebody to move you, why not take your money and put it into an organization that’s making a difference?”


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