David Wilkerson, a young pastor from Pennsylvania heard God say, “Go to New York City and help those boys.” He started the ministry of Teen Challenge in 1958 after the dramatic conversion and transformation of a notorious Brooklyn gang leader, Nicky Cruz.
Rev. Wilkerson describes in his 1963 book The Cross and the Switchblade the attempts made to speak with seven teenaged gang members including Nicky that were on trial for murdering a handicapped boy named Michael Farmer. Wilkerson was continually thwarted in his multiple efforts to see those young teenagers, and eventually gained infamy when he was thrown from the trial’s courtroom. His newfound notoriety gained this preacher credibility and an audience with the other gang members and drug addicts that he encountered on the streets of New York City.
David Wilkerson soon moved to New York to work full time among gang members sharing a message of God’s love for them. Over the next few years, the growing epidemic of drug addiction began to decimate the gangs in New York, forcing addicts into solitary existence where they struggled to satisfy the demand for drugs their minds and bodies craved. The fledgling Teen Challenge organization and Wilkerson adapted to this new reality seeking to make their efforts effective for those bound by addiction.
First, a former mansion was purchased in Brooklyn, which became a refuge for addicts seeking to change their lives followed by a working farm in Pennsylvania. A more structured program was developed and coordinated by the two locations to help these new Christians in a real world. As the program took further shape, it became a one-year residential recovery effort.
The popularity of The Cross and the Switchblade (which sold 11 million copies in the first 10 years and in 1972 went to the big screen) was a phenomenon fueled to a great extent by word of mouth. The story of what God was doing through Teen Challenge ministry in New York captured hearts and excited a passion to see the same ministry established in other locations. Thousands of people from around the nation, and eventually around the world flocked to Brooklyn to see for themselves what was happening. From those small beginnings God powerfully increased Teen Challenge into a worldwide ministry that has grown exponentially with more than 200 centers in the United States and over 1,000 in 104 countries around the world!
A group of businessman and pastors from the Boston area spent three days visiting the Teen Challenge Center in New York City to observe the great work God was doing there. As a result, they invited David Wilkerson to help them initiate a center in the greater Boston area. Gayle F. Lewis, Executive Director of the Assemblies of God Home Missions met with a committee and approved the new project. The committee soon purchased a building in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and in 1964 dedicated it to the Lord as Boston Teen Challenge.
Since its beginning as the fourth Teen Challenge established in the United States, God has miraculously expanded this life changing ministry’s borders from 1999 through 2007 from Boston to all six New England states and New Jersey with corporate headquarters located in Brockton, Massachusetts.
The Boston center needed a larger facility, and relocated to nearby Brockton, Massachusetts in 1968 under Directors Bob Beuscher and Jim Vitale.
In 1982, a new men’s center was re-opened in Boston as Boston Outreach Ministries by a former graduate Rodney Hart. A few years later in 1989, another men’s home in Providence, Rhode Island was opened and Bob Strothoff, another former graduate, became the Director of both centers. Then Jacqui Strothoff’s Word from the Lord to open a women’s home became a reality in Providence, Rhode Island. During this time Pasco A. Manzo, now President, served for ten years as the Chairman of the Board. Outreach Ministries now three centers received official accreditation as a Teen Challenge organization.
In 1996, Teen Challenge men’s campus was opened in New Haven, Connecticut with Floyd Miles as the Director. The Directors of Brockton, New Haven, Boston and Providence merge into one unified organization, Teen Challenge New England, Inc. in 1999. The following year, Teen Challenge New Hampshire men’s campus was opened in Manchester under the leadership of Director Steve Gadomski. Teen Challenge Johnson, Vermont’s men’s campus was opened in 2005 under the leadership of Director Rick Welch, another graduate. Two years later, God gifted Teen Challenge New England with a property in Winthrop, Maine which became Teen Challenge Maine men’s campus. In the same year, Teen Challenge New Jersey men’s campus in Newark came under the leadership of Teen Challenge New England, Inc. and over the next several years, focus was given to growth and development of staff.
Pasco A. Manzo was appointed as the President of Teen Challenge New England, Inc. in January 2014. Many changes within the program, managing of finances, increasing residential beds and renovations happened all across the campuses. In the same year, 88 acres with 22 buildings was gifted to Teen Challenge New Jersey allowing them to move from Newark to Lebanon and increase to 90 beds. Three other properties were also donated in Nashua, New Hampshire, Middletown, Connecticut, Pilesgrove, New Jersey.
The third book of graduates’ success stories in a series entitled, Changed Lives – Ten True Stories: From addiction to Freedom, was just published. In January 2017, a short-term program Bloom – a Place For Girls opens for adolescent girls aged 12-17 struggling with addiction, rebellion, or former sex trafficking. More than 400 adult men, women and teens can now be cared for on the Teen Challenge campuses throughout New England and New Jersey.
Teen Challenge New England and New Jersey leaders and staff continue to keep “students first”, depend on God, work hard and always believe for more changed lives.
Teen Challenge New England & New Jersey exists to bring life changing hope to addicts and their families.
Confronted by Hope — Walking in Freedom — Living with Purpose