By Melanie Williams
Alessandro Acosta was at the tender age of 18 when he surrendered and admitted his substance abuse.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to wave his white flag alone. Acosta had support in the form of The Youth Challenge of CT. Together with the staff and volunteers there he fought and conquered his alcohol addiction.
Little did Acosta know then that, at the age of 23, he would be the development liaison for this organization, a graduate from Challenge International Bible College in Florida, part of the umbrella organization of Youth Challenge of CT, and would be teaching a course with a curriculum that focuses on the steps needed to change your life.
This 18-month recovery program, which emphasizes support, community, and faith, has had more than half of their participants like Acosta graduate substance free and become assets to the community.
The mission of the program is a simple solution for a complicated issue. As stated on its website, “Today many people are in need of help and cannot afford to pay for it, and others simply don’t know where to find help. Through Youth Challenge’s outreach facilities and mentality many people are finding a future and a hope.”
“It’s a place that has helped many people gain new lives. This program deserves people’s support. We need others to understand that people do care about them,” said Acosta.
Youth Challenge of CT began in 1970 as a residential outreach center focusing on troubled young men and women in Hartford. The residential center gave these young people a sharing and caring environment in which to grow and develop personally and socially.
Bishop Raúl González came to Hartford in 1970 to help with Youth Challenge. In 1969 Bishop González had experienced freedom from an 11-year drug addiction through a program similar to Youth Challenge and felt called to help others experience what he had. In 1972, Bishop González became the Executive Director of Youth Challenge of CT, Inc.
Due to the success and need for it in this community, the program is still operating as it currently serves approximately 70 people annually through the residential programs and hundreds though a variety of outreach efforts. At any given time, 30 to 40 volunteers are on hand assisting with the Men’s Residential Center which houses 15 students; the Mission for Woman housing which consists of eight students; and the Training Center for men in Moosup section of Plainfield.
Currently 80 percent of Youth Challenge’s residents in Connecticut are voluntary, walk-in clientele and 20 percent come through referrals made by community hospitals, courts, clergy, and correctional facilities. Youth Challenge’s open door policy welcomes men and women from every walk of life without regard to religious, ethnic, or racial background. The program prides itself on being one of the few programs in the state qualified to accept Spanish-speaking substance abuse users.
The program is now gearing up for the annual Youth Challenge of CT Walk-A-Thon and is welcoming the community to help fight against substance abuse one step at a time. Last year, this event had approximately 150 people in attendance and raised $25,000; they are expecting to have more than 200 people this year. Fundraisers, such as this walk, are critical to keeping this organization running.
“We want to encourage the community to walk at this event. We want to see this event become bigger than it currently is in terms of the number of participants and the funds collected. The program depends heavily on donations from individuals, private foundations, government agencies and events of this nature. We need vehicles to transport our students to appointments as necessary. The ones we have are very old and in need of replacement, “said Olga Acosta, an active volunteer in the public relations and fundraising department of the organization.
However, her role in this organization is rooted much deeper than her title; she is Alessandro’s mother and deems his involvement in the program as one of her most significant moments within her years of volunteering.
If you are interested in helping the cause and participating in the Walk-A-Thon to be held Saturday, September 15, please contact Alessandro Acosta at 860-728-5199 at Youth Challenge Headquarters. Registration is from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. The walk begins at 10 a.m.