Wanchese Program Offers Hope In Recovery
Humility and service to one’s fellow man takes many forms. For Jerron Feaster, it arrived as yard work and burnt pizza.
Feaster and three fellow residents of Dare Challenge, a Wanchese-based substance abuse recovery and outreach program, labored for five hours on a cold, windswept, sunless March day at a house belonging to a Kitty Hawk couple whose grounds had fallen into disrepair. Under the homeowner’s direction, they raked leaves, trimmed shrubs, removed debris, dug around the foundation, and tidied up the property.
The project carried Feaster back to memories of his childhood on his grandparents’ 40-acre farm south of Gainesville, Fla., a time long before he had fallen under the grip of addiction and despair. He and his siblings tilled the soil, helped with the garden, tended to livestock and baled hay, developing an appreciation for discipline, work and tasks completed.
Hunger brought him back to the present and when it came time for a lunch break on that March day, the homeowner accidentally burned one of the pizzas he prepared for the work crew. He chose to serve it anyway, rather than waste it. And Feaster, rather than feel disappointed at the prospect of eating burnt pizza, actually valued the experience.
“I felt like it was a lesson learned, that we had earned the man’s efforts, as well, no matter what the outcome was,” Feaster said.
Feaster and his colleagues gratefully ate lunch and bonded with the couple’s two dogs. They viewed some of the many photos throughout the house and listened as the couple told stories of their lives and family. The crew then eagerly tackled the last couple hours of yard work.
They did this all at no charge – Dare Challenge never charges for work in the community.
“It was really awesome, because at the end, it wasn’t just a work job,” Feaster said. “It was relationships built. It was something to hold on to, to know that we were a great asset in this community…that we had purpose. And that people welcomed us. Once being unproductive members of society, now becoming productive members.”
Outer Banks Dare Challenge refers to itself as “a Christ-centered, residential discipleship program for individuals experiencing life-controlling problems.”
Program Director Dustin Daniels puts it this way: “We take guys who are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and ready for a change in their life.”
Participants – “students” they’re called within the program – are men who range from their teens to their 50s. They’re wracked with substance abuse and addiction problems. Some who enter the program recently completed detox programs. Some have lapsed after lengthy periods of sobriety. Many have alienated family and friends, and they view the program as their last option before homelessness or death.
Dare Challenge usually accommodates 15 students at a time – up to 18 in a pinch. They’re housed, dormitory-style, in a three-story building on Highway 345 just outside of Wanchese, where they’re closely supervised and tightly scheduled.
The program lasts eight to ten months and is conducted in two phases. Phase One lasts four months and consists of three days per week of bible study, class time and counseling, and three days on work crews in the community. Phase Two also lasts four months and includes three days of classes and three days of work at the Dare Challenge Thrift Store on Route 158 in Kill Devil Hills. An optional third phase is a structured, halfway house kind of transition back into the community, with assistance in building a resume, finding a job and housing, and handling personal finances.
“They’re a great group of guys, all getting clean through Christ,” said Interfaith Community Outreach Executive Director Jenniffer Albanese. “A lot of people only think of them as having the thrift store, but they’re invaluable in the community with all the things they do.”
Albanese said that since 2010, her outfit has partnered with Dare Challenge on numerous projects such as moving furniture, yard work, setup and breakdown of events, bulk deliveries, even cleanup after Hurricane Irene in 2011. She doesn’t hesitate to recommend Dare Challenge for projects that residents are unable to do themselves or have limited means to pay for work.
Challenge staff and students routinely connect with and visit multiple churches throughout the Outer Banks. They offer their services and support as atonement and a means to give back to a community that has embraced them. The organization relies almost exclusively on private donations and keeps its overt fundraising efforts to a minimum. Daniels estimated that it costs approximately $45 per day to house, feed and care for each man. The monthly budget, he said, is roughly $27,000, which equates to $324,000 annually.
“We go out and we serve people, and at the same time, while we’re serving people, things come back to us,” said Daniels, a 43-year-old Wanchese native who has directed the Challenge for a decade. “Therefore, we are able to pay our bills, pay what we need to do. Somehow or another, it always comes back and works in our favor, because we’re always helping somebody else out.”
Community work has become a point of emphasis under Daniels and assistant director Doug Henriott, who manages the thrift store and schedules work projects. Daniels and Henriott oversee a staff of four. All of them have been through Dare Challenge, or similar programs. All have had their own struggles with substance abuse.
“Addiction is always taking,” Daniels said. “Taking from your parents, taking from your job, taking from your family, taking from your community. Anything you can get your hands on to feed your addiction. You’re always taking. We train these guys and teach these guys that in order to be like Jesus and in order to turn your life completely around, you have to learn to serve people…. people who can’t always give you something back for what you give them.”
As Henriott puts it, “We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus out in the community.”
That perspective often requires a shift in the students’ thought process. Daniels said that one primary task in a student’s first two months is to read and summarize the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, because they deal closely with Jesus.
“At first, you wonder why am I doing all this stuff for free? I’m not doing stuff for free,” said student Dylan Cameron. “But then you get to see how thankful the people are and you want to do it. It’s a changing experience. It’s a change of the heart, really.”
Cameron, an 18-year-old from Wilmington, NC, arrived in March. He is a wiry 5-9 and 150 pounds, with dark hair, brown eyes, smooth features and an inquisitive nature. He declined to discuss the circumstances that brought him to the program, saying only that he lacked structure and was headed down “a dark path.”
Bible study, fellowship and work have changed him, he said, and he will pursue whatever path God places before him.
“I work in the thrift store. I make no money,” Cameron said. “Even though I make no money, I feel richer than I’ve ever been.”
Dare Challenge founder David Daniels, also a Wanchese native and distant relative of Dustin’s, started the organization in the early 1980s and has watched it grow in the 10 years since Dustin assumed full control. It began as a respite and stopover for men with addiction problems, who were then placed in more extensive programs elsewhere.
Under Dustin Daniels, the organization enlisted volunteers – teachers, counselors, local clergy – to assist in its efforts in expanding the program. David Daniels, who has ministered for more than 40 years, called it as fine a ministry for its size and mission that he knows. Its service and work components are key, he said.
“It balances out the gospel,” he said. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat. If you love God and don’t love and serve your neighbor, you don’t have the fullness of a relationship with God.”
For Feaster, he said he reached the point where a relationship with God was his last hope. A five-year downward spiral ended in a small town in Tennessee, where he was a cook at a micro brewery who drank to excess, was consumed with rage and entertained thoughts of suicide.
“Not a good place for someone with alcohol problems,” he joked.
Feaster worked up the courage to call his oldest sister, who lives on the Outer Banks and works with a local ministry, and ask for help. She arranged for him to enter a detox facility and then steered him toward Dare Challenge, which he entered in February.
“I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity for a change,” he said. “Dare Challenge received me with open arms. The staff and clients are helping establish the structure and discipline that I need. The routine of life. It’s helped me to grow closer to God, because of the intense discipleship that it instills within me to pray and seek God and to read his word.”
Feaster, 33, is a thoughtful, detailed conversationalist who grew up in Tampa, FL., and at one point was enrolled at the University of Florida’s creative writing program. His parents split when he was a toddler, and he was raised in a home where he said his step-father was verbally and at times physically abusive. Regular trips to his paternal grandparents’ farm were a welcome and valuable escape growing up, providing stability and instilling a work ethic.
He had used drugs and alcohol for intervals dating back to high school, though he was sober for four and a half years as he pursued an education. But when his mother and grandfather passed away within a 12-month period several years ago, he said that began the addictive, hellish spiral that led to him ending up in Tennessee and now the Outer Banks.
Through faith and work, Feaster hopes to remain in the area and to rebuild his life when he completes the program. He said that he can feel that his heart has changed, and that he’s cultivating social skills that had deteriorated under addiction. Each opportunity to serve others, to go out into the community, is a blessing, he said, and a reminder of lessons learned as a boy.
“It was something that I cherished,” he said, “but I lost sight of that for a few years, that hard work builds discipline and character, strength and integrity. Dare Challenge has re-lit that flame inside of me.” ♦
Dave Fairbank is a freelance writer living in Kill Devil Hills. Dave was a sports writer for 30 years at the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press prior to relocating the the Outer Banks.