Teen Challenge Transition
OZARK, Missouri — Gary W. Blackard, chief information officer at Evangel University, has been chosen as the new president of Teen Challenge, a department of U.S. Missions.
Blackard began transitioning to his new role earlier this month. Joseph S. Batluck Sr. will stay on in the post until retiring in May. Batluck says Blackard provides a quality the senior leadership position hasn’t had in a while: relative youth. Blackard, 50, says he hopes to remain in the post until retirement. Blackard is the fourth to serve since Mike Hodges left in 2010.
Unlike many previous Teen Challenge presidents, Blackard isn’t from the ranks of the organization. Before becoming the first CIO at Evangel in 2014, Blackard spent his career in corporate management, including 14 years at Xerox, where he traveled the world as vice president of global operations. But Blackard, who last year added the role of Evangel vice president of strategy and innovation in addition to his CIO duties, says he has no intention of turning Teen Challenge into a business.
“One of my priority goals is to protect the ministry that God gave David Wilkerson 60 years ago,” Blackard tells AG News. “I believe the Lord has huge plans for this ministry that includes its core DNA of evangelism and discipleship.”
Batluck, who in 2015 stepped in as national Teen Challenge president after a 19-month leadership search, has brought a new level of stability and efficiency to the organization. The former AG military chaplain has overseen increased training standards and developed relationships with government entities.
Now, the 18-member Teen Challenge Board, which includes Batluck, has laid out a seven-point strategic plan to help free people from addiction, a plan that Blackard is eager to implement. Blackard served on the board that hired Batluck. He resigned as chairman late last year prior to becoming a candidate for the post, which had six applicants.
The proposed initiatives include:
- Resourcing existing centers to fulfill their potential. Teen Challenge has 7,000 residential beds available in the U.S., but they are far from full. “Before we grow, we need to be good stewards of what we have,” Blackard says.
- Revamping curriculum, some of which is 40 years old. “It needs to be more relevant,” Blackard says. “It doesn’t even mention social media or cellphones, which have become addictions.”
- Developing emerging addiction recovery leaders across the U.S. “Many of our leaders are former addicts, but they came in with no background in leadership.”
- Devising more applicable and broadened prevention training.
- Expanding nonresidential programs. “Many people can’t see themselves in a 12-month program — which is the typical length in Teen Challenge,” Blackard says. The organization also is looking at ways to partner with church faith-based programs such as Living Free, which could serve as feeders for long-term Teen Challenge residential stays.
- Establishing scholarships for students to help defray costs to enter the program. If a breadwinner is the addict, he or she often is reluctant to seek treatment due to concern of how the family bills will be paid.
- Bringing innovative technology platforms and applications to the 260 Teen Challenge centers across the nation.
Blackard, who calls Batluck a spiritual mentor, hopes the strategic initiatives all will be launched by 2025. While financial and training challenges abound, Blackard is grateful that Teen Challenge has a solid infrastructure in place.
“We have centers supporting men, women, adolescent, and women with children populations,” says Blackard, who has been married for 29 years to Debbie, his high school sweetheart. “Across the United States, we have the answer that works for addiction. Our vision is freeing all people from life-controlling issues through the power of Jesus Christ.”
Blackard, a Southern California native, has been a part of the Assemblies of God his entire life. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management from Vanguard University and a master’s degree in health care administration from the University of Southern California.
Batluck and Blackard agree that the scourge of illegal drugs isn’t going away anytime soon. Blackard notes that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates there are 19.7 million people — or 7.2 percent of the population 12 and older — with a current substance abuse disorder. The majority, 14.5 million, have an alcohol addiction
Blackard wants to ensure that Teen Challenge staff are equipped to deal with the fallout.
“It’s not always an easy place to lead,” Blackard says. “Some students dealing with depression, anxiety, and deep-seated anger can be hurtful.”
But Batluck, 67, notes that God is a change agent.
“Even the meanest, toughest addict can get knocked over by the power of the Holy Spirit,” Batluck says. “The Holy Spirit does things that the medical world can’t.”
“I welcome Gary Blackard to the U.S. Missions team and am excited about his involvement in the U.S. Missions Executive Committee,” says U.S. Missions Executive Director Malcolm Burleigh. “I look forward to his contributions that will assist us in advancing the kingdom of God.”