The lobby of Southbrook Church in Weddington was full last Friday evening. As 6:30 p.m. approached, eager guests were smoothly checked in and assigned to their tables. The fading light outside cast a glow on the vases of sunflowers that decorated the welcome area. Night was falling, but the message of hope that was present in the bright decor and spirit of the event could be felt despite the darkness. It was a good metaphor for the subject matter of overcoming addiction.
The program started with a welcome and prayer by Richard Hopkins, Discipleship Pastor of Southbrook church. Tender grilled chicken, green beans, and baked potato were then served by volunteers. Tables came pre-set with salad and condiments, as well as cake. Water and tea were available at a brightly decorated table in the back. Guests had plenty of time to eat and talk before the program began with the Southbrook Worship Team singing “Hello My Name Is” and “Chain Breaker.”
Sergeant Tony Chesser, from the Mecklenburg County ABC Law Enforcement Division, opened the evening with some statistics for the surrounding area. Many guests were surprised to learn that the area around Charlotte is fifth in the nation for opioid drug abuse. It is projected that by the end of 2017, 317 people in Charlotte will have died from a heroin overdose. And while some people believe drug addiction to be more of a problem among rebellious teens, 81% of heroin overdose victims are between the ages of 20 and 39. Chesser ended with a point worth noting that, “With only half of 2017 complete, we have already passed all previous years, except for 2016, for total overdoses.”
Chesser was recently invited to speak in Denver, Colorado. He said, “Out of all of Denver’s problems with the legalization of marijuana, they wanted me to speak on heroin. It was eye opening to me.” He continued, “I have never met a heroin user that has not used marijuana. I have parents thinking that they are being good, supportive parents to their kids by saying things like, ‘At least my child is not drinking and driving, placing everyone at risk out there, and is only smoking a little marijuana.’ Marijuana is a gateway drug, just like alcohol. When you allow marijuana you open the door to other drugs.”
Union County DA Trey Robison followed Sergeant Chesser with sobering and similar information about his county. Robison said, “If you don’t believe this can waltz into your home, you’re living in a dream world.” And that “no one wakes up wanting to be a drug addict.” Robison’s main focus was that our courts and jails “can’t handle any more” drug cases. He believes drugs are a “justice issue, a taxpayer issue, and a moral issue.” His take home point was, “There is a place at the table for faith based programs,” such as Adult & Teen Challenge.
After these facts were presented, personal testimonies were given. First, Gerald Davis, a former graduate and staff member of Adult & Teen Challenge, spoke in person. He and his wife Bridgett are celebrating 14 years together. Next, guests watched a well-made video testimony by Josh Drye, a recent graduate of Pennsylvania Adult & Teen Challenge, and resident of Union County.
The Southbrook Church Worship team then sang “The Cause of Christ” as Phil Drye prepared to introduce the special guest speaker for the evening, Rev. Joel Jakubowski, Chief Clinical Officer of Pennsylvania Adult & Teen Challenge. Joel gave his own moving testimony, covering 20 years of addiction and then recovery. After graduating from what was then Teen Challenge in May 2004, he went on to receive a bachelor’s in Behavioral Health & Addictions Studies as well as a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and is now working on his doctorate in Behavioral Health Organizational Leadership. He also obtained many other certifications and serves as the executive manager at the Pennsylvania Adult & Teen Challenge.
Joel presented the guests with actionable tips and facts on the “Career Cycle” of Addiction. Joel focused on how families can stop being enablers. He told them that as they wait for their loved one to hit the proverbial “bottom,” they can work on ways of “raising the bottom.” Joel said relationships have rules, such as trust, honesty, respect, faithfulness and keeping promises. Addicts, however, “don’t have relationships, they have hostages.” So when relating to a person who is addicted, it is necessary to show unconditional love while not removing the addicted loved one’s consequences, or compromising the rules of your home. Joel brought home the reality that families often enable drug addiction to go on much longer than it would have otherwise.
Melissa Drye, event organizer, gave some facts that also support that thought. She said, “The average age of an addict going into the Adult & Teen Challenge program is 37.” Melissa’s hard work brought in around 400 guests, many of whom were personally touched by addiction through family, church, or community connections.
Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Underwood, Deputy Chris Black and Chief Deputy Todd Elmore were in attendance as well as EMS personnel David Hyatt, Tiffany Starr and Chelsea Brundage. Other decision makers that attended were U.S. Congress candidate Mark Harris and his wife, Beth, County Commissioner Richard Helms, and his wife, Anne, Weddington Mayor Bill Deter, and his wife, Kitty, South Providence Principal Willie Howard, Wesley Chapel Fire Chief Steven McLendon and his wife, Hannah, and Sheriff candidate Brian Crump.
Melissa wanted to thank all of those who helped make the event possible, especially the guest speakers, Southbrook Church staff, and Chris Salter and the men of Shiloh Baptist Church who did much of the cooking for the dinner. The chicken for the dinner was donated by the Pettus family. Cakes were provided by Trish Donavan of American Cakery, and Sylvia Keziah of Just Pampered Catering, and potatoes were donated by Mac’s Seafood & Bakery of Monroe. Ben Scarlett made the video of Josh Drye and recorded the evening’s program. Many other volunteers, such as Joy Catering and Bakery staff and Southbrook Bible Study Sisters helped with catering, serving, decorations, programs and invitations.
There will be more addiction awareness events in the near future. And there is already interest in hosting the fundraising dinner again next year at another venue in 2018. Regarding the energy surrounding the event, Melissa said, “We must stay involved. Don’t make the excitement go away.” She encouraged those who wanted more information about the Adult & Teen Challenge program, or would like to donate, to go to www.paatc.org or call 1-844-888-8085.
For more coverage on the history and philosophy of the Adult & Teen Challenge Program, visit www.triwnews.com and search Adult & Teen Challenge.