Where Change Happens…

Once a sullen boy battling drugs and depression, an Eastern Shore teen is now a success story. At the age of 15, hooked on methamphetamines, Brandon Durrua didn’t care much about anything.He often skipped school, sometimes for days at a time.He sat around a lot — depressed and not really knowing why.Even when he was pulled over in a stolen car one December morning, he felt nothing.He spent 16 months in juvenile detention, locked up in a tough Richmond facility for teen boys, but even that wasn’t enough of a wakeup call. The first night he was out, he got high. Two months later, he was back in detention.As probation officers and family members scrambled to find a place for him, somewhere that might help, they found Teen Challenge in Newport News — a one-year residential program for teen boys that had a history of success.So on Aug. 10, 2005, at the age of 17, Brandon walked into the Warwick Boulevard building. On Saturday, he graduated — clean, sober and eager to start a new chapter in his life that’s far different from the one he was living.The simple description for how he feels?“It feels good,” says Brandon, who is from Onancock, a small town in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore.The more complicated version spans the past year — one that started off rocky and included bouts of rebellion that almost got Brandon kicked out of the program for, in part, stealing from a nearby convenience store.He asked for one more chance and got it. The staff believed in him that much.“We saw some good in him,” says the Rev. Ruth Pabon, who runs the 25-year-old, faith-based Mid-Atlantic Teen Challenge program with her executive director husband, the Rev. Abraham Pabon.In the quarter-century Teen Challenge has been at work in Newport News, the staff estimates they’ve helped more than 600 boys and their families. It’s not for everyone, and not everyone makes it through.But this time, the Pabons’ gamble paid off. Brandon pushed himself, got his high school General Educational Development (GED) credentials, and reached the highest level of Teen Challenge participants — becoming a sort of mentor called a “Timothy,” named for the young church leader who was an aide to the Apostle Paul in the Bible.“He became an encouragement to the other boys,” Pabon says. “He’s one of our success stories.”Brandon’s addiction goes back to the age of 12, when he started smoking and drinking. His friends — he liked to hang out with the older kids — were all doing it. There just wasn’t a lot for young people to do that didn’t involve trouble in their small, Eastern Shore town, Brandon says. He had his first marijuana joint at a Halloween party.Once he found methamphetamines at 15, he didn’t think it was a big deal. He started stealing anything he could get his hands on — drugs, credit cards and even cars. He was aimlessly on his way to New Jersey in a stolen car when a cop, alerted by Brandon’s mother, stopped him while he was still in Virginia.He was 15 when he entered the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice system. When he got out more than a year later, he was depressed and started using again. And when his probation officer asked him if he was clean, Brandon honestly answered no, and ended up in detention again in Norfolk.When Brandon started Teen Challenge, he didn’t want to be there. He had gone through treatment programs while in detention, but nothing ever worked. In juvvie, success was often measured by either getting in good with the guards or getting left behind. Getting beaten. Batted down.So when he first got to Newport News, he acted out. He listened to music he wasn’t supposed to. He tried to steal from a gas station convenience store. He sneaked out. He looked for substances that would get him high.And even when he got his act together and started behaving, he still pledged to leave the program when he turned 18.That was in March.March came and went — but Brandon stayed put, becoming a familiar figure in Newport News’ Hilton neighborhood as he peddled a borrowed bicycle around to stay fit, visited the library and scribbled his thoughts on paper while drinking coffee at Java on the James — a Hilton coffee shop.“I had to,” he says. “You gotta push through, no matter what. You have to have a strong will. I didn’t think I had one, but I do.”What makes Teen Challenge different, he says, is the compassion. Never much of a religious person before, Brandon now finds himself leaning on God — something the program encourages through Bible class, church and devotions.“The love of the people — it makes you feel really good to have people love you that shouldn’t care for you,” Brandon says.Today, Brandon says he doesn’t feel the need to use drugs. That period in his life — most of his life up until now — is a blur, he says, and it’s one he doesn’t intend to return to. He walked into Teen Challenge a skinny, depressed boy who felt everything about life was meaningless and full of dead ends.He walked out a confident young man, head-wise and body-strong, with goals that don’t include getting high.He’s already enrolled in a welding class at Eastern Shore Community College. He’s got a better relationship with his family and hopes to work on the rough spots with the doubting ones. He wants to get a job. He likes to read and write and considers the world wide open as he figures out his options.“I’m going to try and get my life together,” Brandon says, flashing a smile complete with dimples — one that nobody saw much before he decided to battle his addictions. “I want to see what it’s all about.“I’m ready.”This article originally appeared in the Daily Press.Teen Challenge In Newport News Helps A Young Man Turn His Life Around August 23, 2006|By KIM O’BRIEN ROOT, kroot@dailypress.com | 928-6473
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