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B.C. Teen Challenge in Abbotsford: Working for women

Ann Donkers with a student in B.C. Teen Challenge, which offers a safe haven for women looking to overcome addictions. - Kelsey Klassen
Ann Donkers with a student in B.C. Teen Challenge, which offers a safe haven for women looking to overcome addictions.
— image credit: Kelsey Klassen

by Kelsey Klassen, Contributor

Chances are good you’ve driven past it without knowing it was there. Perhaps you don’t even know it exists.

Ann Donkers wants to change that.

Nestled in the hills just out of view of Highway 1, the BC Teen Challenge Abbotsford Women’s Centre is a safe haven for women from around the country looking to overcome addictions in a faith-based environment.

When it opened in 2003, B.C. Teen Challenge was the first women’s centre of its kind in Canada. The 54-acre wooded property is home to upwards of 10 women at any given time, each in various stages of the 12-month residential rehabilitation program. The women, all over the age of 19, come voluntarily into the Christian program looking to acknowledge their struggle with addiction.

“No one has drug or alcohol addiction on their to-do list,” says Donkers, director of the Abbotsford Centre.

The women live in the house for the entire year in orderly dorm-style rooms, and are expected to cook and care for the house as if it were their own. There is even a working vegetable garden, church and school room as part of the comfortably furnished family home, donated to Teen Challenge on the condition it be used to help women.

For a $1,000 intake fee and a $500 monthly support fee, the cost of coming to terms with the toll of addiction is low. Often, families call looking to transform the life of their loved one.

With more than 1,000 locations worldwide, serving between 27,000 and 30,000 people, Teen Challenge is a recognized source for addiction services.

Started on the streets of New York in 1958 as a ministry to gang members and disenfranchised youth, it has grown to one of the largest and most successful addiction recovery services in the world.

But Donkers says very few people know that it is available to everyone. In fact, the majority of the women staying at the Abbotsford centre are from other provinces, and not all come to the centre as Christians.

Megan, a 26-year-old from Ontario in her fifth month of the Teen Challenge program, says acknowledging she had a problem was daunting at first.

“It took me about a month to admit I was an alcoholic,” she relates.

The petite soft-spoken girl had been working on the pipelines in Alberta as a welder’s assistant, and says the pressures of the lifestyle and the drive to work hard blinded her to the fact that she had a drinking problem.

At the encouragement of her brother, once a counsellor with a Teen Challenge Centre in Ontario, she finally stopped telling everyone she was fine and took a bus to the centre.

Initially afraid of change, she fought the desire to go back to work, and now says she feels she is in the right place and is at rest for the first time in years.

While her favourite part of the program is now chapel, students of B.C. Teen Challenge Abbotsford experience a variety of situations meant to build confidence and change their perspective. Drugs, alcohol and smoking are left at the gate, and there are signs around the house indicating when they are allowed to drink caffeine.

Among the structured daily routine of maintaining the house, the women have vocational training options, group work and solo schoolwork under the watchful eye of a team of dedicated women.

Megan could have chosen an addiction centre in her home province, but Donkers made an impression on her mother.

“My mom got off the phone with Ann and said, ‘That woman loves what she does,’ ” explained Megan.

The ordained minister casts a motherly eye over the entire operation, and has had just one student walk out on the program in its eight-year history. The Abbotsford facility boasts a 70 to 75 per cent recovery rate (within five years of graduating).

Women who complete the program have the option to stay on a second year as senior teachers, and graduates are welcome to call or come back any time they need a refresher.

At a cost of $25,000 per year for each student, B.C. Teen Challenge relies solely on the support of individuals, organizations and businesses.

A men‘s Teen Challenge Centre is located in Yarrow, near the Abbotsford border.

Those struggling with addiction or looking to learn more can call B.C. Teen Challenge at 1-888-575-3930, or find them online at bcteenchallenge.com

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