Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Michael Barres, executive director of Teen Challenge of the Smokies Men’s Center acknowledges that continued growth during the past two years of existence has been “encouraging.” However, with increase comes increase.
“We are spending about $2,500 a month more than we are bringing in,” explained Barres. “We had some special gifts in 2018 and 2019 that have carried us, but our reserves are running low.”
He pointed out that some of the one-time gifts were designated for specific projects, such as gutters, new flooring, an on-campus building where men can learn mechanic skills, commercial refrigerators (to replace eight little ones), and more. Macon Furniture Mart offered “partial discounts, partial donations” for new mattresses to equip the men’s dorm, since existing mattresses were leftovers from the property’s camp days and upwards of 30 years old. A truck was also donated so that the gravel road into the campus can be maintained.
“There are so many to thank and so much to be thankful for,” said Barres.
However, needs are ongoing regarding insurance costs, utilities, food, payroll, and other expenses.
“Some people in the community see all the donations we have received so far and think we are fine. But we have an annual budget of about $300,000,” said Barres.
Teen Challenge of the Smokies Men’s Center is a faith-based, 12-month residential addiction recovery program. For 10 years, a former church camp off Highlands Road sat empty on 10 acres along the Cullasaja River. Men’s Center leased the campus in 2015 (with an option to buy), embarking on the challenge of restoring and revitalizing dorms, education rooms, a picnic area with a basketball court, a dining hall, an industrial kitchen, offices, a gym, an auditorium, and more. Barres said the camp was in “terrible disrepair” when they secured it for the Men’s Center. At least 300 volunteers were involved in getting the campus in an operational and livable state before it could open and receive applicants.
The purchase of the property became official last July through the North Carolina Assemblies of God loan program with terms at 0%. “Our payments to own the property are the same as they were when we were leasing it,” said Barres, “$2,000 a month.”
Although the sale price of the camp is more than $1 million, North Carolina Assemblies of God agreed to match dollar for dollar what Teen Challenge of the Smokies raises.
“That means that once we pay $567,000, the property is ours free and clear,” said Barres. “It is our desire to pay [the amount] off so that we can continue to be free of debt and our money is free to be used to help men gain freedom from addiction.”
So far, 16 men have graduated from the program and 18 are currently enrolled. Last year, 14 made decisions to live their lives for Christ and were baptized in the Cullasaja River.
“Because of what’s happened in their lives since they’ve been here, many want to sing and testify in area churches,” said Barres. “And they want to volunteer in the community … give back. They’ve volunteered at CareNet, No Wrong Doors, Holly Springs Baptist – for Operation Christmas Child, Manna Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, and to help elderly individuals with projects such as yard work or moving.”
On the first Friday of every month at 6 p.m., a Men’s Center group joins others to circle at the courthouse in Franklin for Prayers Against Drugs.
“So many stories of restoration so far here,” said Barres. “Not just an individual’s restoration, but in their families and relationships as well. They’ve learned or are learning not just to be clean and sober, but to think, react, and live differently.”
The “therapeutic environment” of the campus has helped men heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually, assured Barres. “During their 30 minutes of devotion time they often find a spot by the river. And we also have opportunities for them to work out, play ball, or participate in corn hole and horseshoes with one another.”
All men in the 12-month program are involved in group studies, personal studies, Bible study, counseling, chapel, and work. Barres shared that life skills and coping skills are taught every day in classrooms in order to give the men “new tools” to handle the stress and problems of life. Barres assists in teaching such subjects as work ethics, relationships, preparing a resumé, etc.
After graduation, men in transition have the option of renting an on-campus cabin for a low rate and working and interning. Or, they are encouraged to return to their homes, establish accountability, and become “plugged into” community, a church, and the workplace. Contact is maintained with graduates after they complete the program.
“Some men have been here three weeks and others eight months.
“There’s a lot of peer to peer opportunities,” said Barres. “If someone knows how to weld, he will teach the others. And [furniture maker] John Roper has been coming in since we started to teach how to make rustic furniture in the woodworking shop.” Furniture is sold at the Teen Challenge of the Smokies Thrift Store on US-441 located between Franklin and Sylva.
Barres said that profits from the Thrift Store help with about 5% of the Men’s Center’s overall budget. This past year, the former camp pool was filled in and a garden was cultivated, maintained, and harvested by some of the men enrolled in the program. “Rick Shays is over our kitchen,” said Barres. “He teaches some of the men to cook, so they cook with and for each other and all the vegetables grown in the garden were eaten.”
He added that individuals, churches, and organizations within the community also provide some meals. “Rick will organize a food drive and put the word out about what is needed. Or, a group or a restaurant will commit to providing a meal for 25 once a month. It would really help if more committed to doing that for the men.”
Besides ongoing donations of food and funds, the Men’s Center is in immediate need of sofas for a primary gathering space. “I realized some of the sofas were being held together by duct tape when they were moved for the new floor to be put in. And they are just in bad shape overall.”
Another immediate need is a minivan to taxi one or a few individuals to doctor’s appointments, for example.
And, although there are about a dozen committed volunteers who contribute time at the Teen Challenge of the Smokies Men’s Center or Thrift Store, more are always needed, asserted Barres. “There’s so much that people can do … volunteer their time at the store, teach a skill, teach a class or help around the grounds.”