Adult & Teen Challenge in Wasilla is one of only a handful of residential treatment centers in Alaska.

For the last three years, the international organization has been slowly accepting men into its faith-based substance abuse recovery program. Now, the Mat-Su center says it's ready to open its doors to even more. 

"The model of the program is a discipleship model," Doug Wever, state executive director for Pacific Northwest Adult & Teen Challenge Alaska, said.

From Swaziland to Nairobe, Russia, South Africa and the Czech Republic, Wever has been around the world helping set up similar programs. He says Alaska is his latest challenge.

"I will say, in some ways, Alaska is among the worst I've ever seen," Wever said. 

Men at the Wasilla center live there for a year, working through trauma, and building relationships with each other and the Christian faith. Wever says the program has been extremely effective, receiving the endorsement of at least three presidents.

In 2010, a study of the same program in Minnesota found that, a year out, 73% of graduates reported they had not relapsed. Even so, some of them did admit to using one or more substances during that time. 

"Everybody's one step away, one choice away, from making that relapse decision," Terrance Nelson, a public outreach coordinator for the organization, said. He was addicted to meth at 19, but now he's nine years sober.

"My life was just torn apart when I was 15, when my parents got divorced," Nelson said. "So, I started trying to find just something to help numb that feeling."

Adult & Teen Challenge didn't exist in Alaska at the time, so Nelson had to go to Washington to participate in the program. Now, he's helping expand the program in Alaska, from what started as just a handful of residents three years ago, to a house with more than 20 men now. 

The expansion came just in time for Derek Cooper, who is now halfway through the program.

"I had been trying to get into treatment for almost a year before I was able to get into here," he said. "I felt comfortable and open in sharing things in my life, working through and processing things in my life that I'd never talked about and really rebuilding relationships."

Beyond rebuilding, men in the organization say they've built new bonds with each other that are stronger than addiction.

"The problem is so broad and deep in Alaska that we're not going to residential bed our way out of this, but we can, I think, put the hope of coming out of it out to every addict in Alaska," Wever said.

While the center in Wasilla is just for men, Wever says the organization has a seven-year plan to open two more just like it, and three more for women in Alaska.

The faith-based program isn't eligible for state funding, so it relies heavily on community donations. Participants aren't charged for their treatment.

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