For Reverend Chris, It’s a Family Affair
By Christopher Manson
Pensacola Teen Challenge is a faith-based nonprofit whose mission is to help individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addiction serving our local area. “They stay with us for a year,” says honcho Rev. Chris McKinney. “They live with us, and we help them get back on their feet.”
In 1958, Teen Challenge was started by David Wilkerson, who went to New York City to intervene in a situation where young gang members had killed a boy. “He saw all the gang violence. It was a big problem,” says Rev. McKinney.
“He saw a real need for programs to get people out of gangs and also to get them off of drugs. He started the first center in Brooklyn, and since then, over a thousand Teen Challenges have begun across the world. It’s pretty amazing.”
Twelve years ago, Rev. McKinney went through the program himself. “God changed my life in the program. I went through the Emerging Leaders program and became a staff member at multiple locations. I’ve been the leader in Pensacola for five years now. It’s a wonderful place and a wonderful program.
“I hit rock bottom,” he continues. “My mom actually was in the Pensacola Women’s Center, and I came to see her graduate from the program. Two days later, I went in. Our lives have changed. My wife graduated from the program, too. It’s a family thing.”
Though Rev. McKinney was raised in a Christian environment, he got into heavy drug and alcohol use as a teenager. “It robbed me of my ambition. I was always an ‘A’ and ‘B’ student, but I got caught up with the wrong crowd.” Opiates were the young McKinney’s drug of choice “and it just got worse and worse. I got arrested on my birthday in 2011, and in that moment, I knew I really had to change.”
The last 12 years have been good to him. He’s married with two children, has a Bachelor’s degree in theology, and serves as a pastor. “I made a commitment to the Lord, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Pensacola Teen Challenge helps adults as well as adolescents. “Our beds get full at times, but we have other groups in Florida and other states,” says Rev. McKinney. “It’s never really an issue for us, and it’s a low-cost program. We don’t want to turn anyone away because of money.”
According to the national Teen Challenge website teenchallenge.cc, 86 percent of graduates remain sober one year after completing the program. Seventy-five percent become employed after a year, while 92 percent are reported be in “good to excellent health.” These are amazing stats and a testament to the impact of the program.
Rev. McKinney says witnessing the transformation in the lives of other people is the most rewarding part of his involvement. “I think the faith factor is very important, and that has a lot to do with their success after the program. The best thing for me is to see someone live a life of sobriety.
“You see them on day one, and they’re in rough shape. And after a year, you see them completely changed. It’s pretty awesome.”