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Setting the Record Straight About the Minnesota Teen Challenge

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We are very concerned after reading the recent Huffington Post article by Maia Szalavitz, "Obama Drug Czar Pick Tied to Abusive Christian Rehab Linked to Contributor Charged with $3.5 Billion Fraud." (December 10th, 2008)

The article presents a very inaccurate and inflammatory portrayal of Minnesota Teen Challenge which we would like to address.

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. 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.

Minnesota Teen Challenge's beliefs and practices bear no resemblance to the portrayal in the article.

1. It is important to note that the federal earmark sponsored by Congressman Ramstad -- approved with bipartisan support in Congress, including Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) and Congressman Keith Ellison (D) -- was designated for Minnesota Teen Challenge's Know the Truth drug and alcohol abuse prevention program. This program is completely separate from our recovery program and is entirely non-religious in nature. This widely respected program has been presented to more than 30,000 junior and senior high school students across the state of Minnesota.

2. Minnesota Teen Challenge does not recruit members into the Assemblies of God denomination as a means to cure addiction. We are an independent 501c3 charitable organization that is non-denominational in nature and we do not recruit participants to join any particular church or denomination.

3. Minnesota Teen Challenge employs qualified licensed chemical dependency counselors and operates a program licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. We follow the same rules and procedures for client care as all other treatment programs in the state.

4. Minnesota Teen Challenge does not use forced labor backed by the threat of food deprivation and does not use humiliation or other abusive tactics. All clients are treated with dignity and respect and they voluntarily participate in the program. Our program is regularly reviewed by city, county, and state officials to ensure quality care is being provided. An independent research study indicated that 83% of those surveyed rated the quality of our program as "very good" or "outstanding."

5. Minnesota Teen Challenge does allow its clients to use medications and we do recognize that many addicts have a co-occurring mental illness. In fact, we employ nurses to help monitor client's medications and work side by side with community mental health providers.

6. A 2007 independent scientific research study conducted by the Wilder Foundation and nationally recognized researcher, Dr. Patricia Owen revealed that 74% of 2005 graduates had been abstinent in the previous six months. Additionally, 87% of graduates stated that their circumstances today would be a lot worse if they hadn't gone through the Teen Challenge program.

7. Minnesota Teen Challenge does not engage in illegal discrimination of applicants with differing beliefs and our application process makes it clear that those with different or no religious belief are eligible for employment.

8. Our staffing levels reflect the fact that we operate eight separate residential programs in seven locations that provide round the clock care with food services, etc., as well as a respected drug prevention program with a dedicated staff.

We are very troubled that such an inflammatory article, beginning with the inaccurate headline, can be disseminated without the subject of the story having an opportunity to respond to any questions or concerns.

While we recognize that not everybody will agree with our religious viewpoint, we hope that we can all agree that assisting people overcome their addictions to drugs and alcohol is a worthy goal. We do appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.

Rich Scherber is a pastor and Executive Director of Minnesota Teen Challenge. He overcame drug use many years ago as a young man after a profound spiritual awakening that changed his life. He holds a master's degree in Education.

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