Since 1972, Teen Challenge has been working hard in Ventura County to help women who have nowhere else to turn. Rosie Weir, the director of Teen Challenge in Ventura County, sat down with The Conejo Guardian to offer an inside glimpse into the lives of the girls in their program.
How do the girls come to be here?
About 40% of our girls would be in jail if it weren’t for Teen Challenge. If the courts make a recommendation to send the girls to Teen Challenge instead of prison, we then start them on the application process. It is a free-will decision, though. The girls can choose for themselves if they’d like to commit to the program. Most of these girls come to us drug-addicted, hungry, unshowered, and that leaves behind a residue of problems. We send them right away to the first phase of the program.
Can you explain the process?
The first phase is called Induction. It’s three months at a facility in either Bakersfield or Los Angeles. There, the girls get cleaned up in every sense of the word. They get the help they need. They are stabilized during this time and then transferred to the facility here [in Ventura].
They spend nine months at the Ventura facility where they are enrolled in classes, given an advisor, and assigned a job description. Here we teach them life skills that they will carry with them as they graduate from the program. The last few months are spent helping them decide what they will do next, applying for positions and jobs, and so on.
The second phase is a four-month internship if the girls want it. Here they learn more about how to become a member of the Teen Challenge team.
If, after the first two phases, the girls feel they would like to stay on as staff here, they go to our one-year Bible college, Teen Challenge Ministry Institute, in Los Angeles where they are trained to work for Teen Challenge at one of our facilities. We have no psychologists on staff; everyone you see here is a graduate.
What makes this place so special for you specifically?
We have moms that have been separated from their children, estranged from their families, and in and out of prison. Through Teen Challenge, the lives of these women have been radically changed through the love of Christ. That is why we do what we do.
For me, I was into drugs in the 70s. I got saved, and the Lord changed my whole life. Someone who worked at Teen Challenge invited me to do a chapel, and the rest is history. I never intended to be the director, but I’ve been involved in Teen Challenge since 1984.
What keeps you here?
The need continues. We are meant to help people and give. When my husband retired from being a Ventura County fireman, we had plans—maybe buy a motorhome and travel—but that would just be living for ourselves. For us, there’s nothing there. The Lord gives me grace to be here. We’re saving lives. We’re helping one human being at a time, and that is what keeps me going. Every time I think about leaving, a new group of twenty girls comes in, and I just can’t ignore the need.
How does Teen Challenge receive funding?
We are completely supported by monthly donations, annual fundraisers, and the generosity of churches. We would also help with different community projects like the Ojai Lavender Festival; however, due to the COVID restrictions, we are down 35-40% of our normal funding. Under normal circumstances, we would take some of our graduates to churches to share the testimonies of their changed lives, but we can’t do that now, so we’ve had to get creative.
What we’re doing now is having some of our girls create crafts to sell, like these logs with living succulents on them. During the Thomas Fires in 2017, we did lose one of our dorms, and there were a lot of downed trees. We decided to turn that situation into a fundraiser with these logs. Each log is handmade by one of our girls and includes her specific testimony. We would love anyone who would like to buy one to make an appointment and come take a look.
What is the success rate at Teen Challenge?
I don’t know for sure. A few years ago, there was a study done that showed an 86% success rate, but all I know is that we have many women who have come through and had their lives radically changed and transformed.
I would love for you to meet some of the graduates of our program and hear their stories for yourself. Here are a few of them:
Elizabeth: I grew up in the Ojai Valley in a churchgoing family, but I had some rebellion in me. By middle school, I was already dabbling in things I knew I shouldn’t be, and by the time I graduated high school, I was fully addicted. Soon after, I found myself pregnant. My addiction settled down, but after giving birth, I picked up again, even stronger than before. I was in and out of jail, and by this time I had two children. I felt lost and hopeless. Having grown up in the church, I looked back and remembered the choir ladies who had so much joy. I came to Teen Challenge for an interview and never really left. The doors opened, and I have been able to get my kids back and my life on track, little by little. Without Teen Challenge, I don’t think I would be here today. My addiction was so bad, I wanted to end my life, but God had other plans for me.
Maria: I have been involved with Teen Challenge since 2000. I was in jail, and I needed a program instead of going to prison. Because Teen Challenge was a free program, and I had no money, I applied. I entered the doors of Teen Challenge in paper clothes, and I’ve never turned back since. I was addicted to meth, in and out of jail, hung around with people that were not great people, and made horrible choices. Had I not found Teen Challenge, I would probably be dead. Now, I have a hope and a future, and I’m very grateful to Teen Challenge. I’ve been on staff since 2003, and I wouldn’t do anything else. God completely changed my heart, and I want to share that with the ladies that come into Teen Challenge.
Terri: I came in 2017 into the program in Bakersfield. I woke up in jail after a blackout. It was like God was saying to me, “What are you going to do?” As soon as I got out, I went running straight to Teen Challenge, having known about it through friends. I went through the one-year program and then to the Bible college. I have been working at Teen Challenge since January, and I love watching the transformations that happen so quickly when the girls come to the induction center. Their whole vocabulary changes, their whole demeanor changes, and the restoration that happens with their children and families is just amazing. God has made a way when there was no way. I’m sixty years old, and I was in addiction for so long. I was restored and want to be a part of these women’s lives. I was in their shoes just three years ago, and it’s just a blessing to be part of Teen Challenge.