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Buffalo rehab program back on its feet, thanks to former participants

Daniel Pacana started taking painkillers 20 years ago after a bike crash and has spent most of the time since addicted to opiates. He’s looked forward to this weekend, when he makes a story in The Buffalo News for something besides being arrested.

Pacana, 38, director of program development for Buffalo Adult and Teen Challenge, is organizing a golf tournament this month to benefit the Christian-based residential drug rehabilitation program for men age 18 and older.

“You come in here and this is one of the last resorts,” said Pacana, who completed the program two years ago. “A lot of the 28-day programs are drive-through services and not much changes in 30 days. When those programs consistently don't work, people end up calling us and saying, ‘Listen, I don't know what else to do.’ That's really what it came down to for me and many of the other guys here. If you're looking at nine to 12 months, you're looking to change your life.

“That's what this place can help offer. It's kind of like being at boot camp. It's kind of like being at college. It's kind of like being at church.”

A rural Pennsylvania preacher, the Rev. David Wilkerson — best known for writing “The Cross and the Switchblade” — started Teen Challenge in 1960, two years after moving to Brooklyn because he was stirred by a story in Life magazine about seven teens on trial for murder in New York City. The Buffalo branch opened in 1978 in a former convent on Locust Street in the city Fruit Belt.

Today, there are more than 1,100 programs spread across 110 countries.

Upstate chapters have faced challenges in recent years. The Buffalo residence, which can serve up to 25 men, had an average occupancy of five when Pacana arrived in October 2017. Jason Brinzo, of Staten Island, was sent to the region that year to become program manager, and Dave Bengyak was assigned as director. They, too, are program graduates.

Watermark Wesleyan, Evangel and New Covenant Tabernacle churches were among those in the region who helped with donations.

The house is now generally full. Typical days start at 6 a.m. and end about 9:30 p.m. They include time for prayer, a church service, reading and group discussion. Residents are tasked with making meals, improving the house and grounds, and spreading the word about the program.

Those in the program also are ready to serve those in the community of limited means who need help tackling construction jobs, landscaping and similar work.

“We have a lot of different trades in here,” Brinzo said. “Our greatest resource here is manpower.”

The Buffalo Challenge house has a new kitchen, dining room, bathrooms and closets thanks to its residents. The dining room walls were built using wooden pallets donated by Confer Plastics. They are similar to the ones Pacana first saw after his got up from his bike after his crash two decades ago in front of the company’s North Tonawanda site.

“This all came full circle,” Pacana said during a recent interview.

The Buffalo Challenge golf tournament starts at 10 a.m. July 17 at Chestnut Hill Country Club in Darien. Cost is $100 per golfer and includes lunch and a steak dinner. A hole-in-one challenge provides a chance to win a Camaro. Call Pacana at 449-5946 for tickets.

“I really want people to see what we're able to do here … to see that there is help,” he said. “I’m a totally different person today than I was when I first came into this program. I think that helping somebody else out, and doing the right thing, is what helps you stay clean and sober. The more people you help, the more you want to.”

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