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Adult & Teen Challenge Graduation Celebration

People familiar with Adult & Teen Challenge often comment on how busy we are. Between the program curriculum, Biblical studies, chapel services, prayer times, vocational training, counseling, End Addiction Teams, and countless other activities, our staff and residents are always on the move. However, at the end of each quarter, Adult & Teen Challenge residents and leadership from throughout New England and New Jersey take a break to gather in Brockton, MA for a day of learning, team-building, collaborating, and most importantly, celebrating those who are graduating from the program! Here is a look inside, reflecting our most recent graduation day in July.

CEO Spot

Upon arrival in the early afternoon, all staff and leadership met  for the “CEO Spot”, led by our CEO, Pasco Manzo.  Here Pasco reviews the progress and challenges we’ve faced in the past quarter, and gives updates, announcements, and future goals. This day, Pasco started off with announcements about building projects that are in progress at our Maine Campus and the opening of The Carpenter’s Shop vocational training facility at our men’s campus in New Hampshire. Pasco then brought a Word about the pitfalls of the many distractions that the world has to keep our hearts and minds on earthly things.  From Colossians 3, Pasco said, “when you can keep your head off the distractions, and  on the things above, that’s where the peace and joy is. That’s what keeps you solid and moving forward all the time.” He then shared an anecdote about daily walks he and his wife, Mary Ann, take near their home. While they enjoy these scenic walks, swarms of tiny gnats are often  a nuisance that discourages them from leaving their home. “Who knew that such a tiny thing could have the power to keep us homebound! Don’t let the little distractions of life keep you from experiencing what God has for you. Don’t forget how little a gnat is in comparison with your God.” After the message, Pasco introduced two new additions to the Executive Leadership team, Melissa Oliveira and Joe Rand. 

Learning Teams 

Immediately following the CEO Spot, Learning Teams met to participate in more focused collaborative learning and structured discussion, divided by specific departments. For example,  kitchen leaders discuss more efficient ways of ordering food and minimizing waste. Or Admissions leaders may discuss ways to help streamline the admissions process for incarcerated individuals. These meetings are invaluable for implementing new strategies, finding solutions to common problems, receiving peer feedback and support, and improving everything we do.

Graduation Ceremony & Testimonies

Our Graduation Ceremony is the culmination of all the hard work the Graduates have put in during the 10-12 months they’ve been in the program. It is no small feat to graduate from Adult & Teen Challenge. While the goal is for every resident to graduate, the program is more difficult than most. Galatians 6:7-9 states, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Often when a resident arrives at Adult & Teen Challenge, their body, mind, and spirit are still reaping the destruction they’ve sown in their addiction. Drugs offer an immediate euphoria and escape, but come at such a heavy price, often costing users their lives. Learning how to sow to please God is difficult at first, but if they do not give up, residents begin to see what a beautiful harvest looks like. Harvests of family restoration, of newfound contentment, of dropped criminal charges, of unshakable faith and unspeakable joy! There is nothing more satisfying than having the privilege of watching this happen, which is what the staff, executive leadership, and supporters of Adult & Teen Challenge live for.

At 5PM, “Pomp and Circumstance” (better known as the graduation song) began playing, while the music was almost immediately drowned out by tumultuous applause and cheering. Donning their caps and gowns, the 24 Graduates walked down the center aisle to their reserved seats at the front of the auditorium, most of them smiling from ear to ear. For many, this is the first time they’ve ever been a part of a graduation ceremony. For some, this is the first time they’ve ever been celebrated for a personal achievement. 

Once the Graduates had all arrived, the worship team began and the atmosphere was filled with such a sense of unity and gratitude towards God for all His blessings. Jesus says in Luke 7 that those who are forgiven of much, love much. The amount of grace and forgiveness given to us by God produces a love during worship that is transcendent. 

When worship concluded and everyone was seated, our host called up Tori Ferrari, Director of Bloom: A Place for Girls, to hand out the first certificate of the night. At each Graduation Ceremony, each director is called to the podium to hand their center’s Graduates their certificate and a Bible that they’ve written a personal message in. Graduates are then asked to share a brief testimony about what God has done in their lives. Every one of the Graduates’ stories were incredible. Here are some quotes: 

Manuela, a Graduate from Bloom – A Place for Girls, said, “Before I came to Bloom, I suffered with depression, anxiety, psychological and emotional abuse, drug abuse, PTSD as well as several other issues. During my stay at Bloom I developed a relationship with God, and I am living for Christ! My plan after graduation is to finish high school and go to medical school to become a pediatric nurse.”

Pat Gingell, a Graduate from our Southern New England Women’s Home said, “At 64 I entered Teen Challenge distraught and gripped with fear that was deep rooted from childhood trauma, and the internal chaos that affected me as an individual, a wife, and as a mother. I came to Adult & Teen Challenge totally disconnected from myself and my identity.” At that moment she began to cry, “But God,” she continued as the crowd cheered, “God has filled me with a peace that can only come from above. Adult & Teen Challenge taught me, by example, how to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Today I live in complete freedom, no fear, no PTSD, no dependence on substances! I am totally free! I am so grateful for Adult & Teen Challenge who gave me back my identity as a woman, and my true identity, who I am in Christ!”

Peter Long, a Graduate from our Vermont Men’s Center said, “God has delivered me from a 25-year addiction to opiates and everything else. All glory to God! I want to thank all the brothers in Vermont. I also want to thank my family, who stuck by me through it all!”

Dale Wesson, a Graduate from our Connecticut Men’s Center said, “How many of you know that God is faithful? My name is Jesse, I’m from Manchester, grew up there my entire life. We all come from different places and different backgrounds, but I believe one thing we all have in common. We all had a problem with trying to find self-worth. I think we were all looking for that in the wrong places. This program has helped redirect me. I tried to find worth in women, cars, money, jobs, but Christ was there all along! I want to thank my church family for bringing me here. I want to thank the program for showing me love. In Ezekiel, the Bible talks about the Valley of the Dry Bones. That’s what my life was before the program. I was wandering aimlessly, and I didn’t know where I was going to go but God had a plan! In that story, God asks Ezekiel “can these bones live?” then he tells him, “speak life into those bones and they will live!” God caused me to live by working through the apprentices, and staff, and residents, and my church family. I am just so grateful for what God has done, and what He continues to do.” 

Keanin Tornquist, a Graduate from our New Jersey Men’s Center said “A year ago, I almost lost my life to the schemes of the devil, but the Lord picked me up and redeemed me. I’ve been washed clean by His blood and am never ever going back!”

Message & Conclusion

Once the Graduates were prayed over and returned to their seats, Pasco Manzo shared a short word. “I want to give you a message to take with you. You’ve been strong here, but I want you to be strong when you leave here. Last year drug overdoses rose in the United States to over 110,000 deaths. The devil thrives on evil, lying to deceive people every single day. Mark 3:27 refers to the devil as a strong man. Graduates, you are a child of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and that means something. It means that you have the authority, in the King’s name, to bind everything that tries to come against you! I would liken the strong man to addiction. Strong enough to make a son steal from his mother, a daughter will sell herself for $20, a father will commit crimes that will imprison him and separate him from his family.” Pasco then shared Scriptures about the constant effort the devil makes to accuse and discredit and tempt God’s children and admonished the Graduates on some of the temptations they are going to face when leaving. “The enemy will try to get you to give up a little ground, then a little more, until there is no ground left to give. That doesn’t have to be your story! You’ve defeated the strong man as you’ve been in this program. You’ve kept your head on straight. You’ve allowed the teacher’s here to show you what it takes to go back out into this world again. If Jesus says you can bind the strong man, that’s good enough for me! People sometimes ask me how I know it works, because I myself am a testimony, and have 45 years clean.” Concluding his message, Pasco said, “Graduates, God reached down and picked you up out of the water when you were drowning and he gave you hope. That’s why you were able to walk down this aisle today. That’s why we are able to celebrate with you today. The real Strong Man is Jesus! Walk in that truth, walk in that victory, we love you, and God bless.” 

After praying for the Graduates, the crowd was dismissed. There was so much joy in the air, and smiles to be seen all around. Graduates embraced their families and received congratulations from friends. As always, the day was a spiritual gift from heaven. 

Join Us

If you are interested in attending a Graduation Ceremony, they are completely open to the public. The next one  is scheduled for Friday October 20, 2023 at 5PM at 20 Clifton Avenue, Brockton, MA 02301. We hope to see you there!