Adult and Teen Challenge program participants gain experience, interpersonal skills for employment

FILE PHOTO - Members of the Adult and Teen Challenge community serve several locations through their work experience program, including a thrift store in Portland.

At the Adult and Teen Challenge thrift store, participants in the addiction recovery program greet customers, organize inventory and work at the cash register. They pick up donations, assess their quality and find a home for them on the sales floor.

Those involved with the Portland TC Resale & Donation Center at 5050 S.E. 82nd Ave. say that the experience teaches them more than skills in retail.

"I was a person full of hate. Now I have a love for people," said Mike Whitesell, a graduate of the Estacada-based Pacific Northwest Adult Teen Challenge who is now an intern with the program.

"I was blessed to ring people up and get to know them. I couldn't look anyone in the eye or have a conversation. Now I can stand up there confident in who I am. It's beyond words."

Adult and Teen Challenge, a mission of the Assemblies of God Church, has 240 locations across the United States. The headquarters for the addiction recovery program's Pacific Northwest branch moved from Portland to 380 N.W. Sixth Ave. in Estacada earlier this year. Participants receive a Christian-based curriculum that focuses on relapse prevention and includes personal devotion time, classes, group sessions and chapel.

Spending time at the thrift store is one way in which those in recovery gain work experience. Some participants are involved with manufacturing and shipping at Sandy Farms or in property upkeep through All Pro.

"The vocational education program is designed to teach different types of skills to use when they leave the program," said Terry Van Antwerp, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Adult and Teen Challenge. "It also teaches that everything they do, do to the best of their ability."

Students in the program are evaluated on teamwork, attitude, work ethic, stewardship, focus and productivity.

"(We want them to be able to) say 'I haven't just been in a program to get sober, I was actively involved in work,'" Van Antwerp said.

He added that working is an important element of the recovery process.

"It's an opportunity to take ownership in the work, and walk in a different direction from the next drug being the only thing in your thought process," he said.

Whitesell and JJ Jubino, another intern with Adult

Teen Challenge, said the thrift store benefits customers as well as members of the program.

"We do outreach to the homeless and explain what God's doing in our lives," Jubino said. "I've had people tell me they come to the store because they feel safe there and because of the positivity of the guys working there. They like the hope they see from guys in the program."

Whitesell recounted an instance where someone had been sleeping in front of the building.

"They said, 'I know what this is. I need help.' Days later, he was enrolled in the program," Whitesell said.

He added that it's often helpful for those struggling with addiction to see recovery in action.

"You can see what it is to choose right when you've been leaning left," he said. "The thrift store is the highlight of our days because we're given the opportunity to give people hope."

Many agree that the welcoming atmosphere is beneficial for everyone.

"It gives us the opportunity to talk to people that people walk by. Hundreds of people have walked by this person and probably have not said hi to them," Jubino said.

Leaders at Adult Teen Challenge said they are always seeking additional businesses to partner with so their attendees can receive work experience.

"You don't need to be afraid to hire our guys," said Mike Odell, who oversees the program. "As soon as they meet you, you'll be greeted with a smile. These guys don't joke around when it comes to work. They love being outside and working hard."

Adult and Teen Challenge thrift store

The Portland TC Resale & Donation Center is at 5050 SE 82nd Ave., Portland. It's open from open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 503-719-5381.

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