On July 30, 1957, 15-year-old Michael Farmer, who had polio, was fatally attacked by teen gang members in Highbridge Park, N.Y. The crime, which gained national attention, brought American Christian Evangelist David Wilkerson to ask the question "Did these teens know Jesus?", leading to the founding of the Christian faith-based addiction recovery program, Teen Challenge, in 1960.
After years of expanding the program worldwide, Adult and Teen Challenge of Arkansas celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and will feature Farmer's niece, Katie Farmer, as one of two guest speakers at its celebration fundraising banquet at 7 p.m. April 25 at the Hot Springs Convention Center.
ATC-AR graduate Tommy Bourgeois will be the other guest speaker, telling the story of how teen challenge turned his life around after leaving a broken home in 1993, leading him to graduate college and become a chaplain for the Arkansas Department of Correction.
The purpose of the event is not only to celebrate but to inform attendees on what the organization does and its purpose, in hopes of gaining donations and sponsors.
"It's a great opportunity for people to impact and give someone a second chance, and that's primarily it. You're investing in the future, not only saving a life but in the long run actually saving tax dollars," ATC-AR Executive Director Tim Culbreth said.
Culbreth said two-thirds of the nonprofit program is funded by contributions and one-third is funded by a $650 student induction fee.
Culbreth said only 40 percent of the students are able to pay the fee.
"Our goal is to work with someone who needs help ... We never turn anyone away," he said.
ATC-AR is a 15-month voluntary residential program for men ages 18 and older, assisting with addiction recovery. The Hot Springs location is the first phase of the program, lasting five months. The second phase is in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where they will finish the program.
Culbreth said there are a lot of shorter programs out there, but they have discovered there are some people who need the longer time to readjust their thinking and life goals.
"There are some shorter-term programs that work well, but typically most of the students have tried those on several occasions and they're anxious to get involved in a longer-term program."
Culbreth said there is no maximum age limit in applying for the program, noting he once had a 65-year-old cousin complete it. He said applicants don't have to live in Arkansas, although they do give preference to Arkansas residents.
Once accepted into the program, students will attend a series of classes teaching them principles they can apply to the areas of addiction in their life, and create their own personalized curriculum to help them reach their goals. An average day involves devotions, chapel services, lecture classes, on-site chores, work detail on-site and around Hot Springs and three mealtimes in the on-site dining hall.
Culbreth said when considering this long-term program someone's current situation is usually bad enough to motivate them to enter, stay committed and get on the right recovery path.
"Someone should come when they are, what I would call, completely dysfunctional. We have guys come through the program that are married or have families, and for someone to give up that much time to go through a program, usually what you're seeing is there is a huge depletion of family resources. They are costing the family and, at that point, realizing there needs to be some drastic changes."
He said the outcome of restoration in a man's life makes it worth the time spent, and Bourgeois' testimony that will be told at the banquet is a great example of the outcome the program provides.
Some of Culbreth's favorite moments in the 38 years he has worked at Teen Challenge is seeing graduates coming back to visit the campus, usually with their families.
"They take them around and show them something that happened significantly -- maybe (where they got) baptized in the creek or someplace on the property where they had a special time of devotion that was a life-changing experience."
Culbreth said he would like to see the program expand into having a re-entry program to help graduates resettle into the community in its next 50 years.
The program was founded in 1969 in Little Rock, but when attempting to relocate the property outside of Little Rock in 1981, the new community did not want to be affiliated with the program, Culbreth said.
This is when it turned to considering Hot Springs for relocation, and were welcomed into the community, purchasing 19 acres on Walnut Valley Road.
"There was a community that didn't want us, but when we came here we were welcomed by our neighbors, Hot Springs Village and Hot Springs. It was a vast difference," he said. "I've enjoyed working in the community and watching our students help out, and at the same time the community has been very good to us."
Culbreth said the program demonstrates to the students how to "live out their faith by serving others in the community" while "maintaining a good attitude and taking pride in a job well done."
The students assist in setting up special events in Hot Springs and completing work details like cemetery maintenance and planting in Garvan Woodland Gardens.
Culbreth said, because of the acceptance Hot Springs provides them, he hopes the next 50 years of ATC-AR continues to bring a positive impact to the community.