U-Turn Program Offers Men A New Way Of Life

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

“Because I have been there and know what they are going through, I can look them in their eye and say ‘you are self-centered’” Harold Fleeger U-Turn for Christ program director

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Sal Elizondo (left) and Henry Gustavo don’t seem too worried about the large pile of wood yet to cut as they work together to make this pile smaller at the U-Turn for Christ complex on West Frontier Street.

Everyone falls down in life sometimes. The men at U-Turn for Christ are picking themselves up from years of bad decisions.

Payson’s U-Turn offers men of all ages a free, safe place to overcome addictions to drugs and alcohol and destructive behaviors through the word of the God.

Take one of the youngest members, 18-year-old Chris Green from California. Green was addicted to a host of drugs including heroin and had a baby boy on the way.

His addictive lifestyle evolved at an early from smoking pot with friends to using more destructive drugs. Realizing his life was going nowhere fast, Green turned to his mother and pastor for help.

“I had a choice to come here or go nowhere, probably live on the streets,” he said.

His pastor referred him to the program in Arizona, one of 14 U-Turn facilities in the United States.

Upon arriving almost two months ago, Green said the first week was the hardest because he no longer had access to drugs.

Green prayed with the program’s director Harold Fleeger every day and by the second week Green felt relief.

“Since then everything has changed, even my ideals about life,” he said. “God changed my heart.”

Although Green attended church for most of his life, he said he never fully gave himself over to God. With a newborn son in California, Green was motivated to change.

After graduating from the program, Green hopes to live with his grandparents in Payson, get a job and eventually study fire science at the community college so he can become a firefighter.

Green’s story is similar to many of the men who come to U-Turn for help.

Fleeger said the residential facility offers a two-month program that relies solely on the word of God to make positive changes in men’s lives.

Every day, the men wake up at 5:30 a.m. and read Proverbs around an outdoor fire pit. By 7:30 a.m., they eat breakfast and start work in the community. At night, they attend Bible study.

When not studying the Bible, the group is constantly volunteering their time for any community need. From yard work to construction to general maintenance, Fleeger will respond to any call for help.

“We are here to serve the community,” he said.

If an elderly couple cannot take care of their yard, U-Turn helps. When The Rim Club or Chaparral Pines needs someone to maintain empty lots, they volunteer.

Most of the time, U-Turn receives donations for the work, which helps sustain the facility.

Men normally come to the program through private referrals, from other Calvary Chapel members, the Web site or through a plea deal with the court.

When a man finally enters the program, he is normally sent to a facility away from his home. This gets them out of their sinful environment, Fleeger explained.

Fleeger himself spent two years in the program in Perris, Calif. overcoming substance abuse and a gambling addiction.

“The real problem was that I was trying to run from the Lord and disqualify myself from the call God had on my life and I was looking to anything else as a substitute to find some relief and peace,” Fleeger said on U-Turn’s Web site.

Fleeger’s addictions started when he was a child. He said for many years he lived very selfishly, which many of the men in the program also admit to doing.

“They are living for themselves and no one else,” he said.

When people are addicted to anything, they are living only for themselves and they need help to get over that, he added.

“Because I have been there and know what they are going through, I can look them in their eye and say ‘you are self-centered.’”

After Fleeger gave himself over to the program and God, he finally found relief. Although this meant being away from his wife and family for two years and four months, Fleeger said it only strengthened the bond with his wife Patricia.

“She faithfully stood by me,” he said.

Like Fleeger and Green, Mark Gindlesperger, 52, started using drugs as a teen. However, his addictions really took off when his wife died at age 25.

“I had been mad at God ever since,” he said. “I tried to mask the depression with psych meds.”

Gindlesperger became chemically dependent on a host of noxious prescription drugs for years.

He finally sought relief by attending a rehab facility in the Valley but quickly realized it was not for him because of the cramped corridors and cigarette smoke. His dad then checked out U-Turn and his brother brought him up for the two-month program in September.

Before coming to U-Turn, Gindlesperger detoxed at a Valley hospital. However, even after detox, the first week Gindlesperger spent at U-Turn was painful.

“I was just a zombie,” he said. Although Gindlesperger was given medication from the hospital to deal with his drug withdrawals, he had a seizure.

Since then, Fleeger and Gindlesperger have prayed together and he says it is getting easier, although he still cannot sleep.

“I have not slept once since getting here,” he added, “it has been 35 days.”

Even with the painful withdrawals and added stress of missing family, Gindlesperger said he is grateful to be at U-Turn.

“In order to proceed with living and being happy, I need to be here,” he said.

Gindlesperger hopes to go home by Thanksgiving and be with family and friends.

Fleeger pointed out that it is crucial men complete the full two-month program (phase one) or they risk relapse. During the initial two months, the men are supervised 24 hours a day.

After completing phase one, men can stay with the program for the next two years. They are encouraged to get jobs in the community and their own home.

At any time in phase two, Fleeger can drug test a participant. If he finds they have relapsed, they go back to phase one and start the process over.

U-Turn was started 15 years ago out of one building and trailer. It has grown since to 14 U.S. locations and six Philippines and Mexico locations. It is run 100 percent on donations.

Payson’s U-Turn receives support from a number of local churches and the food bank.

Fleeger said he is constantly in need of more food, among other things. To donate, visit www.uturnforchristaz.com.

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