MN Teen Challenge closer to national parent than director acknowledged

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Last December, after the Minnesota Independent ran an article about Minnesota Teen Challenge and the federal earmark the Christian drug treatment center is receiving, the group wrote in to challenge the Independent’s characterization of their programs, as well as that of Huffington Post health reporter Maia Szalavitz.  


But a review of documents obtained by the Minnesota Independent from the Minnesota Department of Human Services and Hennepin County calls into question the merits of MNTC’s complaints.


MNTC took offense to the link made between the national Teen Challenge program and Minnesota Teen Challenge. In our Dec. 2008 story, we reported on testimony at a 2001 congressional hearing by Teen Challenge Executive Director John Castellani, who said all faiths are welcome to participate in the programs. For instance, some Jews come out of the program “completed Jews,” he said, in reference to a conversion to Christianity. Minnesota Teen Challenge distanced itself from that statement – along with the national organization.


“Minnesota Teen Challenge is a leading and respected treatment center in Minnesota, part of a large network of Teen Challenge centers across the United States,” MNTC’s Rich Scherber wrote to the Minnesota Independent and the Huffington Post at the time. “Each program is independently controlled and autonomous in operation and methodology. As such, it is entirely improper to attribute alleged incidents and practices at one center as being common to all.”


But state documents show – in MNTC’s own words – that they aren’t so autonomous. The treatment center maintains compliance with the National Teen Challenge, is accredited by the National Teen Challenge, reports monthly to national headquarters and uses the National Teen Challenge curriculum in its programming.


According to the documents, the position description for the MNTC’s administrative assistant includes “prepare and submit monthly National Teen Challenge reports.”


Another position description, for the director of programming, says that the director will “ensure MNTC is in compliance with… National Teen Challenge.”


And a history document submitted to Hennepin County as part of its contract with the county says that MNTC is “certified” by the national headquarters. “Minnesota Teen Challenge was incorporated in 1984 as a nonprofit organization (501(c)(3)) and is part of a network of 400 Teen Challenge centers worldwide, which are certified by National Teen Challenge in Springfield, Missouri. Thus, Minnesota Teen Challenge is engaged in a national and international effort to rehabilitate individuals with drug, alcohol, and other life controlling problems.”


And in MNTC’s Affirmative Action Plan submitted to Hennepin County, the document states that the philosophy and background are based on the National Teen Challenge’s founders: “The Teen Challenge program began in 1958 in New York as a result of David Wilkerson, a Pennsylvania minister’s work with New York gangs. The program is based on religious and spiritual guidance. For additional information on Philosophy and background, see Philosophy of Teen Challenge by Dave Batty, Teen Challenge Therapeutic Model by Douglas Wever, History and Philosophy of Teen Challenge by Frank Reynolds, and Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson.”


On the National Teen Challenge website, it lists curriculum that is “taught in every residential center” [emphasis theirs], which is called “Group Studies for New Christians.”



The Group Studies for New Christians classes are fundamental tools in the process of developing a deeper relationship Jesus Christ. The 14 classes teach Biblical principles and give the tools to apply them to the student’s lives. While these courses are designed with new believers in mind, they are a great refresher for those who are more mature in their faith. These classes provide practical hope for living in today’s society.


Among the topics discussed in the curriculum: How Can I Know I’m a Christian, A Quick Look At the Bible, Successful Christian Living, Christian Practices, Obedience to God, How to Study the Bible, and Spiritual Power and the Supernatural.