Joel Jakubowski felt a sense of abandonment as a child growing up in Reading, Pennsylvania. His parents divorced when he was 7, and his father left the home. He rarely saw his mentally ill mother, who spent long stretches institutionalized.
He wound up living with his remarried father, but he struggled to fit in to the blended family. At 16, he began smoking marijuana three times a day, and drinking alcohol multiple times a week.
Being high seemed normal during his four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. On returning to Pennsylvania, Jakubowski got hooked on cocaine. At 25 he was dependent on crack cocaine.
Jakubowski resorted to unsavory means to obtain illegal drugs, including racking up delinquent credit card bills, writing bad checks, and stealing. He lived in a crack house to stoke a daily habit, and amassed a half a million dollars in debts and three operating while intoxicated convictions.
“Eventually, every area of my life was devastated by addiction,” Jakubowski says. “I experienced legal trouble and lost everything: home, family, job, health — and hope.”
Although Jakubowski, then an atheist, ultimately went to counselors and completed outpatient programs, he white-knuckled his addiction, barely getting by until something would trigger a desire to use again.
After multiple relapses, his family interceded to save Jakubowski’s life. His father Joe told his son if he ever wanted to live at home again he needed to enter a proven treatment program. Joe recommended Teen Challenge, which he knew had a 78 percent success rate of staying sober, because Joel’s older sister, Angela Reznick, attended an Assemblies of God church.
“I came to a decision, after a series of escalating events, that I would no longer support Joel’s addiction and told him that he could not live here anymore and had to go to a residential treatment program, if he ever wanted to come back,” Joe Jakubowski says.
Joel’s father and sister took him to a four-month induction program at Lazarus House, a Teen Challenge International, U.S.A. center in Newark, New Jersey. Subsequently, Joel spent eight months at the Teen Challenge Training Center in Rehrersburg, Pennsylvania
Jakubowski knew he needed to change, but he initially eyed the program with cynicism. During his stay, however, his uncooperative attitudes dissipated, along with the oppression of addiction. He developed a good sense of identity, a moral values system, and forgave others and himself.
“I no longer deal with things by blaming others, running away, and getting high,” Jakubowski says. “I don’t fight, flight, or medicate.”
“Joel entered Lazarus House empty, defeated, and lifeless and was transformed into a healthy, intelligent, vibrant, talented, and faithful Christian,” Joe says. “He went to the second phase in Rehrersburg and flourished and has continued to do so exponentially ever since.”
After two decades of addiction, Jakubowski graduated from the Teen Challenge program in 2004 with a desire to become a drug and alcohol counselor. He obtained the necessary degrees and certifications, and since 2007 has been employed full time at the Teen Challenge Training Center in Rehrersburg. As the chief clinical officer, the certified Assemblies of God minister helps in the academic, therapeutic, and vocational aftercare long-term residential addiction treatment of students.
Nationally, the average age of Teen Challenge students is 37. Jakubowski, now an energetic 49, entered treatment there at 38. His now has close ties with his parents.
“By the time most guys are willing to go to a long-term residential facility they’ve been through a slew of other programs they realized didn’t work,” says Jakubowski, who is enrolled in a behavioral health organization leadership doctoral program. “We end up being the last chance for a lot of guys with deep-seated addictions, hang-ups, and habits. The longer a person is in treatment, the greater the success rate for recovery.”
In 2010, Jakubowski married Angie Myers, five months after he met her on the Internet. Angie says she had been praying for the right husband for 12 years, and Joel’s profile on a Christian dating site quickly convinced her of his genuine faith in God.
Angie Jakubowski has a passel of certifications herself, and founded the faith-based Restorative Interventions to facilitate family involvement for loved ones who are in denial or who refuse to seek help for drug or alcohol addiction. Joel, when not working at Teen Challenge, accompanies his wife to assist in clinical interventions to help others change self-destructive behaviors.
Pictured: Jakubowski (left) and Joe Batluck, president of Teen Challenge International, USA