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Recovery: "He's changed my life completely"

How a faith-based program helped Kennard Roopanram go from battling addiction to helping others do the same
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Kennard Roopanram says Christ has made him "a new creature" through a faith-based recovery program at Teen Challenge North. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Kennard Roopanram thanks God for helping him deal with an alcohol addiction and for putting his life back together in a way he never imagined.

Roopanram is a graduate of the faith-based recovery program available through Teen Challenge North, located off Great Northern Road, immediately south of Root River Golf Club.

"God has used this organization as a vessel to do His work," Roopanram told SooToday.

"I'm very thankful for Teen Challenge, it's given me, young men and even older men, the opportunity to completely rededicate their lives and turn their lives around…there is hope, and change can only come through one person, and that's Jesus Christ."

"I grew up in a Christian home and I grew up knowing the Lord," he reflected.

However, it was after completing high school and electrician training in his native Guyana that he strayed from his upbringing and his life began to go awry.

"Next to the sugar factory where I worked as an electrician was a distillery (rum is made from sugarcane byproducts such as molasses)."

"I would see guys start drinking there and sooner or later I started the same thing too," said Roopanram, now 54.

"My mom thought I was getting from bad to worse." 

Thinking a month-long vacation might help him, he came to Canada to visit relatives in Toronto in 1984.

Roopanram stayed in Canada and eventually obtained a work permit, furthering his electrician training at a community college in Toronto.

But even as Roopanram stayed in Canada, so too did drinking stay in his life.

"Because I had money to spare (from his job in Guyana, where he had lived rent free with his mother), I dropped out of school after a couple of weeks, I got involved in a lot of drinking."

"I enjoyed that lifestyle, I was single, and I thought that was life."

His girlfriend, a Christian, came to Canada and the two were married, and as time went by the couple had three daughters.

Roopanram switched jobs and worked as a furniture warehouse supervisor.

"I worked a lot and I was very good at what I was doing but I was drinking a lot, a lot of guys from transport companies would give you booze, and for me that was life."

His wife and other relatives confronted Roopanram about his drinking and he agreed to go into a 30-day program at a secular rehab centre in Toronto.

But not long after leaving rehab, he went back to drinking.

"The void was still there, I had spare time and I had money…things went from bad to worse."

By now it was 2011.

Roopanram's wife had heard of Teen Challenge North's 12-month, residential, faith-based recovery program in Sault Ste. Marie. 

"I said 'Okay fine, I'll go there for a year' . . . my wife wanted to leave, and my daughters were growing up," Roopanram said.

He enrolled in the Teen Challenge North program in 2011 and graduated in 2012. 

He continued at Teen Challenge North for a six-month internship and eventually became a paid employee, working as a community support worker at the recovery centre, caring for its students (as Teen Challenge clients are called). 

"We take the guys to Tim Hortons, the beach or a drive (in the Teen Challenge North van), for a hike, and we have a full-time counsellor," Roopanram said, adding his responsibilities also include overseeing Teen Challenge's students on indoor and outdoor chores.

Teen Challenge North is by no means a correctional facility.

However, total commitment to change and spiritual renewal within a keep-busy environment is still expected of Teen Challenge students during their 12-month stay (those that do not wish to stay are free to leave).

Students get up early and have a full daily schedule of personal devotions, classroom time within the Teen Challenge curriculum, meals, counselling, indoor and outdoor work, job and life skills training and recreational activities.

"It was very difficult for me at first as an adult, because you're accustomed to doing whatever you want to do . . . but I realized I messed up being in control of myself, so I needed that structure to go back out there and be a different person, where I can take back control," Roopanram said.

He likened Teen Challenge North to learning to walk again, first as a child, then as a mature adult, within a Christian environment.

"I knew I could fill that void in my life with the Lord, but I was not prepared to make that commitment before, and eventually I made that commitment when I came here," Roopanram said.

"Since then I've been faithful to the Lord and I haven't touched alcohol."

"Drinking destroys others in your life, it's like a domino effect . . . me and my wife got divorced because of it."

Roopanram said he still has "a very good relationship" with his three daughters, and that his wife is now seeing the "seriousness" in him.

Roopanram said his wife and daughters, who live in southern Ontario, now plan to make the journey to the Sault and visit him later this month.

"God is good and what I've learned is if I substitute my addiction for Christ instead, that's all that matters, that's how I can be a success."

"The time I spent drinking I now spend in the word of the Lord (diligently, prayerfully studying the Bible), that makes a huge difference, a complete life, in the way you walk and the way you talk, the way you treat others, it's a 180-degree, complete change when you have the Lord as your Saviour, when you trust in Him."

"You have to be all in for the Lord or not in, you can't give a part to God and keep a part for yourself, and that's what I was doing before (through drinking)…but when you give it all up for God you realize you don't need those other things."

"The One who created you knows what you need, He will provide what you need…if you put your trust in Him."

"He says 'In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths (Proverbs chapter 3, verse 6)'"

"(Now) I'm a new creature in Christ, He's changed my whole life completely."

Roopanram says he struggles "every day" with temptation but stays strong and has a way out through prayer and surrounding himself with other strong-in-the-faith, evangelical Christians.

"You're not walking alone, you're walking with God and you're walking with your brothers in Christ."

Roopanram, who lives in town and travels to work at Teen Challenge North, said God has provided for his needs, pointing to the example of a friend who has given him a good-quality used car.

"God has given me things I wouldn't have dreamed about asking for."

"God has blessed me since I came to Sault Ste. Marie…I look at how much He has restored for me, I have a good relationship with my family because God has changed me completely."

Teen Challenge North is part of a much larger, historical network.

In the 1950s, Pastor David Wilkerson began helping troubled youth in New York City.

Teen Challenge stems from his efforts and has spread all over the world.

It is non-profit, interdenominational and operates in more than 80 countries with more than 1,000 locations.

There is a fee to enrol in Teen Challenge.  

There are three Teen Challenge organizations in Canada with 15 centres (Teen Challenge British Columbia, Teen Challenge Central Canada and Teen Challenge Canada Inc., headquartered in London, Ontario).

Teen Challenge North has room for 10 students (all male, while other Teen Challenge homes are for female students) 

Operating expenses for Teen Challenge North are met through donations from churches and other organizations as well as individuals.

The Teen Challenge North home and property was purchased in 2000 by Teen Challenge Canada Inc.

Teen Challenge North employs eight people (full and part-time), including Roopanram, Chuck McDougall (director), and a certified addictions counsellor who also has pastoral experience. 

Pastors from local evangelical churches also visit to help. 

Its' students can be from the Sault and area, but most tend to be from out of town.

Teen Challenge North can be contacted at 705-942-7771.

More information on Teen Challenge can be found here