In 1958, Pentecostal Pastor David Wilkerson established the first Teen Challenge program. Since that time, more than 170 program centers have opened across the United States. These programs offer both residential and non-residential care for thousands of teens as well as adults "seeking freedom from life-controlling problems." All programs challenge participants to accept Christianity. The national Teen Challenge motto is The Faith Based Solution to the Drug Epidemic. The book, and subsequent movie, The Cross and the Switchblade, tell Wilkerson's story.
West Florida Teen Challenge Boys Ranch is a 15-month military-style residential program for boys ages 12 - 17 emphasizing Christ-centered character development. Academics are provided year-round through a self-paced Christian curriculum with facilitators available to offer tutorial help. Household and farm chores are part of the daily routine, along with physical training and military drill exercises. The students - called cadets - attend chapel twice each week. Group Bible studies, along with individually prescribed Bible studies, give the cadets the character-building blocks for successful living. Weekly individual counseling is Bible based.
Boys who present as rebellious, angry, upset kids, failing in school and having trouble at home are appropriate referrals. Most cadets have had drug and alcohol problems or have demonstrated other addictive behaviors. While admitting boys diagnosed with ADD and/or ADHD as well as mild depression, the school does not dispense any psychotropic medication. Parents are invited to visit after the first four months and then every eight weeks. There are mandatory classes and counseling sessions for parents during their visits.
Teen Challenge programs are all rooted in Christianity but only the West Florida program uses a military approach. As the cadets progress and begin to earn privileges, they are encouraged to participate in traveling drama/youth ministry teams. Both the Director of the West Florida Teen Challenge Boys Ranch and his wife (who is active in the academic program) served as pastors in Palm Coast, FL before joining Teen Challenge.
[This New Perspective was written by Judith E. Bessette, PhD. Judi gathered this information through research online and over the phone.]