But a Christian rehabilitation center in Tulpehocken Township brought him back.

By: Dan Roman

A 10-year battle with drug addiction pushed Mike Messaros II of Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, to the edge.

But a Christian rehabilitation center in Tulpehocken Township brought him back.

"I had a razor in my hand, ready to commit suicide and the next day I went to Pittsburgh for my induction," Messaros said of the despair he felt before entering the Teen Challenge residential program in July.

Messaros, 25, spent four months at an induction center in Pittsburgh before transferring to the Teen Challenge Training Center in Rehrersburg.

Since November, Messaros has kept busy with a regimented schedule of Bible study, prayer, church services and work assignments.

In this highly-structured environment, the 235 residents at the 350-acre campus, worship, work and learn to live free of their former addictions or violent lifestyles.

Despite the name, the average age of a resident is 33 years old.

"The original focus was on young people," Rev. Richard Weitzel, vice president of operations, said.

In 1958, a preacher from eastern Pennsylvania felt a calling to go to New York City to help young gang members out of their situation.

The program eventually expanded to include adult men with alcoholism and drug addiction problems.

Now the program has more than 170 centers nationwide and about 150 worldwide. Teen Challenge also runs centers for teenage boys and is beginning to provide services for females.

As a private, non-profit organization, Teen Challenge relies on the generosity of individuals for charitable contributions.

Although the organization's founder, Rev. David Wilkerson, was a minister with the Assemblies of God church, Weitzel said the program welcomes men from any faith and denomination.

Still, many of the program's administrators come from Assemblies of God and some, like Messaros, plan on extending their service with the evangelical ministry.

Annual fund-raising events include a spring benefit auction on April 7 and 8 and a golf tournament in Harrisburg on May 18.

A small percentage of their revenue also comes from the center's on-site business ventures, including an automotive repair center, a catering and banquet facility, a greenhouse, and a print shop.

More important than the revenue they generate is the opportunity to teach their residents appropriate behavior at a workplace and other job- skills training, Weitzel said.

"We're not like a trade school," Weitzel said. "We can't turn out certified mechanics in a year, but if they pick up some skills in the process, then it's icing on the cake."

Most of the men who come to the program are like Messaros, who had nowhere else to turn after trying and failing to kick his addiction on his own.

"There's no chain-link fence or barbed wire," Weitzel said. "If they want to leave, we'll help them get to the bus station or contact family members."

Clean and sober since entering the program seven months ago, Messaros believes the program has permanently changed his outlook on life and has given him a greater purpose.

"My family has never seen me this lucid and coherent," Messaros said.

A federal study by the National Institute on Drug Addiction in 1973 confirmed the organization's claim of a high success rate for graduates of its program.

More than 60 percent remained clean and sober seven years after graduation from the program.

Even though Messaros's change seems miraculous and spontaneous, his road to recovery is more complicated.

Messaros said he started drinking and smoking marijuana when he was 15, then progressed to harder drugs like heroine and methamphetamines.

His girlfriend killed herself with a pistol in 2000, further fueling the depression, anger and addiction.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Messaros decided to join the military, looking for discipline and a way out of his downward spiral.

It didn't work. Messaros said he made it through three years of a four-year tour and then spent 18 months in military confinement.

"I was trying to do something only God could help me do," Messaros said of his recovery.

Contact Dan Roman at djroman@berksmontnews.com.

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