2023 Strong & Courageous Conference
Adult & Teen Challenge centers met at Providence Marriott this past week for the 2023 Northeast Southeast Regional Conference. The theme of the conference was, Strong & Courageous, which comes from Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” These conferences have been taking place for almost as long as the program has existed, but this was the first to take place in New England in recent memory.
Conferences provide opportunities for Adult & Teen Challenge programs to share knowledge, best practices, and innovative solutions to commonly shared issues in the addiction recovery community. They also allow program staff and leaders to network and establish connections with other peers. Most importantly, we are built up Spiritually and mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
Day One – Opening Session
The first session of the conference was scheduled to be kicked off with worship from Christian recording artist Kelly Wilkerson followed by a word preached by her husband, Rev. Gary Wilkerson, President of World Challenge. Gary is the only son of the founder of Adult & Teen Challenge, Rev. David Wilkerson, and therefore has spent his entire life around the ministry. Unfortunately, due to widespread inclement weather, their flights were canceled. Gary and his team made the decision to video record the message in the hopes that the message could still be played that evening. Within minutes of the opening ceremony, the AV team at the hotel successfully downloaded the message. The results were truly special.
At the beginning of his message, Gary acknowledged the limitations of listening to a recorded message, “I’m sorry I’m not there in person. I’ve listened to videos from speakers that weren’t able to make it in person, and I’ve got to be honest that I tend to check out. I’m going to pray that we can bypass the distance and that I can speak to your heart.” His prayers were answered as he gave a profoundly simple message on the necessity of humility in the modern church and in our programs. Gary started his message by sharing a recent revelation of his need for a fresh anointing, a spiritual revival, a quickening of Spirit, a conviction of sin both in his Spiritual life and ministry. “Particularly conviction of the sin of arrogance. Thinking that after all my years of ministry, all the years of preaching and teaching and leading, that I pretty well have it all together…How far from the truth is that misconception in ministry.” Gary’s biblical references took us through the truly humble ministry of Jesus. In contrast, he spoke about the tendency of modern ministries to try and outperform their contemporaries with more entertaining services and better engagement on social media. Gary was clear throughout his message that he was not speaking from a place of superior wisdom, but rather from deep conviction.
Day Two – Breakout Sessions
After worship and an amazing word from Brice Maddock, President of Global Teen Challenge, attendees of the conference attended breakout sessions. These are designed to provide attendees with the opportunity to delve deeper into specific topics, explore new initiatives, and engage in interactive discussions and activities. Adult & Teen Challenge is always seeking to improve its processes and enrich its staff.
Gary Blackard, President and CEO of Adult & Teen Challenge USA, taught a session on how to maintain and encourage organizational health. In this session, he spoke about the importance of having a healthy culture. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” he said, “we need to employ three key elements: humility, vulnerability, and safety. People need to feel safe when expressing their ideas and even their criticisms.” He also spoke about various strategies for encouraging growth, health, and learning.
Pasco Manzo, CEO of Adult & Teen Challenge New England and New Jersey, taught two sessions. The first was about creating and employing unique fundraising techniques and microenterprises. In this he spoke about creating The Carpenter’s Shop, which enabled their program to raise funds through their vocational training program, benefiting both the program and the residents. By creating valuable and high-quality products, The Carpenter’s Shop also introduces customers to the cause of Adult & Teen Challenge. In his second session, Pasco taught about ways that organizations fall into crisis and how to avoid it. He also drew upon his own experience to teach about how to turn an organization around once it has fallen into disrepair.
Dave Batty, creator of the Adult & Teen Challenge curriculum, spoke about updates to the educational program. Dr. Mike Caparelli taught staff strategies to maintain their mental health while working with residents. Cindy Zello taught about the unique needs and challenges of women and children’s programs. There were many other sessions as well that addressed specific program needs.
Day Two – Afternoon and Evening
After lunch, attendees were treated to improv comedy performed by SAK Comedy, the Orlando group modeled after Who’s Line Is It Anyway. Using suggestions from the audience, the performers created comedic skits, games, and interactive songs. After afternoon breakout sessions, attendees were given time to explore beautiful downtown Providence before the evening service.
The evening session was kicked off with amazing worship from Matt and Carla Stinton, Worship Pastors at Kingdom Life Church in Portland Maine. Mike Zello, President of Adult & Teen Challenge of North Central Virginia and National Board Member, brought the word at the second evening service. After a warm introduction from his wife Cindy, Rev. Mike Zello brought the house down with a truly rousing sermon. Speaking about his nearly 40 years of service to the ministry of Adult & Teen Challenge, Mike spoke about the resurrection of Lazarus. “We are the servants of Jesus, who He instructed to roll away the stone and cut away the burial clothes. While Jesus is the only one who raised the dead…We do not perform the miracle, we only assist the One who does,” Mike said. He encouraged attendees to commit themselves to serving Jesus whatever role they find themselves serving. The evening ended with more worship and an extended time of prayer.
In the final session of the conference, attendees were treated to a panel of couples who have served in the ministry for many years. Mike & Cindy Zello (39 years of service), Brice & Jaylyn Maddock (28 years of service), Tim & Beth Greco (30 years of service), and Paul & Ashley Burke (14 years of service) sat on stage for a heart-to-heart discussion about their experiences while serving in the ministry. Each couple shared their experiences, a few hilarious anecdotes, and heartfelt reflections from their many years of service, leaving a lasting impression of their dedication and perseverance in the ministry.
The 2023 Northeast Southeast Regional Conference of Adult & Teen Challenge NE/SE proved to be an unforgettable gathering that left attendees inspired and equipped to continue their vital work in addiction recovery. Participants from various centers united to share knowledge, best practices, and innovative solutions to address common challenges in the addiction recovery community. Beyond the exchange of ideas, this conference facilitated meaningful connections and networking opportunities among program staff and leaders, fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual support. As the conference drew to a close, participants departed with renewed determination and a deeper sense of purpose, ready to continue their journey of transforming lives and communities impacted by addiction.