“These young men, they are my brothers, my sons, my disciples. They are me. I am them – but for the grace of God. I am trying to get them to see how God sees them and not what society sees. Society can be cruel.” ~ Eric Fox
Executive Director of Teen Challenge (Bahamas), Eric Fox
On the southern outskirts of this island, lies a fenced compound which houses 15 men. Residing within those walls are men carrying baggage: emotional pain, the residual effects of abuse, abandonment from youth, exacerbated by broken homes, including absentee fathers. They are recovering drug addicts, young men with anger problems; some were on the brink of heading to prison.
The profile is familiar: Black Male.
I recently spent an hour of a Sunday afternoon on the compound of Teen Challenge, Marshall Road. It is there where I met Winston Ford. Winston is a well-spoken, mannerly 24-year-old, who grew up in Bain Town. As we conversed, I had to smile; I saw hope in his eyes. I heard it in his voice. He is a young man of promise. In fact, on the front of the facility, are inscribed the words: Hope. Lives. Here.
What I like about Winston is his candidness. He accepts responsibility for the bad habits he embraced from a tender age, and he is now on the right track.
“I was into marijuana, bad company, robbing, and house breaking. It was a choice. We all have the power to change. You can go another route. Being here has steered me onto the right track. It’s a safe haven. This place saved me from death, trouble, bad company, conflict, this place saved me from myself,” said Winston, as he wore a gold chain with a cross as pendant.
Teen Challenge resident, Winston Ford smiles as he listens to Executive Director, Eric Fox
Teen Challenge is an international network of Christian-based organizations aimed at helping teenagers and adults with problems such as substance abuse. Founded in the United States, it has been in The Bahamas for 30 years under the directorship of Evangelistic Temple. At Teen Challenge, the residents feel free to talk about their challenges – the habits they are trying to beat. They’re fighting for their very lives.
Executive Director of Teen Challenge (Bahamas) Eric Fox, was once in their shoes. He has been sober for 30 years after experiencing a downward spiral. Like Winston, Erick too was born over the hill, but went on to grow up in Fox Hill before he ended up on the streets.
“I was living in an old car next to Potters Cay Dock and one night I walked to the nearby bakery on Dowdeswell Street. Rats were in a bin and I chased the rats away for a piece of bread. I said, ‘Lord, I was not created to live like this,’” said Eric, who had hit rock bottom.
Reaching out to Others
It was the stark reality of a harsh street life. Today, Eric has three decades of experience helping others from over the hill and beyond to make responsible decisions and live purposeful lives.
One conversation with Eric and you immediately know he is passionate about saving people from self-destruction. He is doing his part in trying to break the cycle of crime, violence and drug addiction. His vision is long-term recovery. He does not want to see the residents land in prison.
“These young men, they are my brothers, my sons, my disciples. They are me. I am them – but for the grace of God. I am trying to get them to see how God sees them and not what society sees. Society can be cruel,” said Eric.
Teen Challenge, Marshall Road is a safe haven
It was at the age of 15 when Eric began dabbling in drugs. From there, he spiraled out of control, becoming involved in anti-social activities including crime.
“I had no male figure to guide me. It was a rough time. Mischief looked attractive. I was just hopeless and nowhere to go. In my early 20s, I prayed to God for help,” he said.
That was 1988. Teen Challenge had been open a few months. One of Eric’s sisters heard about it and got him enrolled in the multifaceted intervention program taught in a therapeutic environment. The program’s residents are recommended through the local court system and the Ministry of Education.
“I felt I was a nobody. On the 13th September, I entered Teen Challenge and on the 15th during an altar call, I gave my life to the Lord and it has never been the same. I’ve been saved from ignorance to who God would have me to be and to what my purpose is,” he exclaimed.
A cross erected at the faith-based organization’s entrance
Eric went through the program locally and was afforded the opportunity for further training in Pennsylvania.
“I was almost 20 years old. That opened my mind. That put me on the road to where I am today,” said Eric.
“The courts sometimes send people to me as opposed to jail. When I look at these young men, I see myself. I use to be like them. And I don’t address the obvious stuff; I go to the why. Why are so many of them resorting to drugs?’” he questioned.
His conclusion: “They are not prepared to cope and drugs soothe pain, putting you in a different realm. No one is teaching people how to handle failure. They are taking the pain killer, but not being cured, so they get high again.”
This is why Eric and his team of seven – all who were once a part of the program and most then trained at Teen Challenge abroad – attempt to empower these young men to fulfill their purpose; they pour into the residents emotionally and spiritually.
Teen Challenge’s very own Sharon Garvey, who has been Education Director for the past 15 years, has also gone through the program locally after being deported from Los Angeles back to The Bahamas following his stint of dealing drugs. When he looks at the successful lives of his seven siblings, he recognizes he made a choice.
“They faced the same pressure, but I chose to get into the bad crowd. Stop blaming being black or poor. It’s a choice,” he emphasized.
The Teen Challenge team also helps young men in school suspension programs. For example, in 2017, all 78 students referred to the program completed it. And for anger management alone, there were 63 walk-ins and 108 court referrals.
Teen Challenge’s Education Director, Sharon Garvey. A photo of him and his siblings is pasted to the wall; the others have all gone on to have successful careers.
Not giving up
Meanwhile, the reality is there are days when Eric becomes weary. But when he reflects on the young men or their mothers who return with success stories of how well they are doing, they give him the impetus to keep going.
“They come back to say, ‘Thank you.’ Some introduce me to their wives and children. Every time I get discouraged, the Lord allows me to run into someone like that,” he said.
Eric also works on the risks that are present once the residents return to the neighborhoods they once lived and other environments where drugs might be readily available. That is where the real work begins.
Although the programs differ in length and structure, the theme is consistent: follow the rules, stay off drugs. The focus is not to relapse.
Winston is now going on two years at Teen Challenge. He is grateful for the program and particularly for Eric.
“Mr. Fox’s heart is real for God and for the people. He is an excellent man of God. He encourages me,” said Winston.
Questioned about goals for the future, Winston is interested in the performing arts and electronics. He is taking it one step at a time and is hopeful about reintegrating into society.
“For now though, this is home,” he concluded confidently.