“It’s not just a thrift store,” says Robby Ahuja about the Adult and Teen Challenge SuperThrift store Thunder Bay.
The Northwest Ontario director of Adult and Teen Challenge Central Canada says the thrift store generates income to help people struggling with life-controlling addictions, and provides employment and job skills for those in its residential programs.
“Our goal is to not just to get them off drugs. We want them to be productive, church-going, law abiding members of society, have them then working, paying taxes, and giving back to the system,” Ahuja says.
Adult and Teen Challenge was founded in New York in 1958 and currently has 1,400 locations in 120 countries around the world. The Thunder Bay location started as a small referral office in 2006, and includes a 14-bed men’s home since 2010 and a 10-bed women’s home since late 2018. There are also community support groups for people with addictions and for families with loved ones with addictions.
The residential programs require a minimum 12-month commitment and are very regimented in structure. “We do have people who drop out within the first 2 months, because for some it’s too much. But the majority of people come back again. And a high percentage of our graduates are productive members of society,” says Ahuja.
It helps that about half of the people working with the residents are graduates of the program themselves. “I went through the program in 2006,” says Ahuja. “I’ve done time, I lived a life of death and destruction. Now I’m married with four kids and a productive member of society, so I believe in the cause. And we [graduates] relate to the residents.”
The organization does not receive any government funding, so its thrift store and used-car donation program are major sources of revenue. There are also fundraising events four times a year, with the next one coming up on June 15, a golf tournament at Whitewater Golf Club.
“As the drug epidemic has grown in the city and across the nation, so has the need for the solution,” says Ahuja. “We want to put hope within reach of every addict.”