Our History


Teen Challenge has been a successful recovery program for the past 60 years. 


Founded 60 years ago by Reverend David Wilkerson, Teen Challenge has become one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind.

In 1958, a 26-year-old Pentecostal preacher from rural Pennsylvania disrupted a murder trial in New York City by rushing to the front of the courtroom. David Wilkerson had driven eight hours to speak to seven accused gang members about their salvation. In a grave attempt to share God’s love, he rushed to the judge at the close of trial proceedings. There, he pleaded with the judge for permission to meet the teenage defendants. News media were everywhere, and Wilkerson was front-page news throughout the city.

Reverend David Wilkerson | Associated Press

Reverend David Wilkerson | Associated Press

The trial’s judge had been receiving death threats and almost had Wilkerson arrested as a presumed assailant. The judge refused Wilkerson’s request to see the boys, and ordered Wilkerson to never return to his courtroom.

Five months later, Wilkerson’s compassion for teenage gang members and drug addicts began to make history. The judge’s refusal inspired Wilkerson to begin a street ministry to addicts and gang members that grew to become Teen Challenge. After Wilkerson opened the first center, people with trauma, drug addiction, and substance abuse flocked to the center. Many of them were rescued from their addictions and recovered from their life-controlling problems.

Since the first Teen Challenge center opened in New York in 1960, the program has grown to over 195 centers across the nation. There are also 550 centers worldwide. In 1971, Wilkerson founded a global evangelic ministry, World Challenge.

Teen Challenge came west to San Francisco in 1961, and was legally incorporated into Northern California in 1964. In the early years street rallies and evangelism happened regularly in San Francisco. Teen Challenge spread throughout Northern California in the following years. Sacramento’s center opened in 1965, followed by Oakland in 1961, San Jose in 1971, and Nevada in 1998. Four years later, the Las Vegas program came to life. 

The Teen Challenge NorWestCal Nevada team has also been involved in opening Teen Challenge centers in India, the Philippines, Africa, and China by offering training, financial support, and on-the-ground support with missions teams. 

Although David Wilkerson died in 2011 at the age of 79, his legacy lives on through Teen Challenge. The program continues to help the hurt by bringing recovery to those with life-controlling problems. The Teen Challenge residential program is still one of the most effective recovery and prevention programs of its kind.

Today, Teen Challenge NorWestCal Nevada includes six residential centers, two thrift stores, and numerous outreaches.

Teen Challenge is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization.


Teen Challenge Celebrated 50 years of Miracles in 2008

Watch the video below to see a recap of the past 50 years of successes from Teen Challenge. 

Note: This video contains discussion and scenes of drug use that could be triggering or emotionally challenging. Please use viewer discretion.