America’s war against drugs waxes and wanes, depending on how many other social problems are vying for the nation’s attention. But in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a group of Christians is waging a long-term battle against drug and alcohol abuse. And so far, they seem to be winning.

The effort, known as Project 714, uses “positive peer pressure” to battle drug abuse. Now in its sixth year, the drug prevention and intervention program involves at least 11,000 teenagers from Chattanooga, Nashville, and north Georgia. In the Hamilton County school system, located just outside Chattanooga, 64 percent of all high-school students have chosen a drug-and alcohol-free lifestyle. Many administrators say Project 714 is responsible for declines in drug and alcohol use both on and off the campuses of their schools.

The program’s success has much to do with a well-thought-out focus, said Jimmy Lee, who founded Project 714 in 1981. “An effective program requires more than just giving out bumper stickers and buttons,” Lee said. “There has to be somebody in there working with kids on a day-to-day basis.”

Stressing Prevention

After he started Teen Challenge programs in Chattanooga and Nashville, Lee launched Project 714 because he believed that rehabilitation, while important, was reaching youth too late. He wanted to offer a program that would give teenagers the incentive and peer support to lead drug-and alcohol-free lives.

Lee discussed his plan with Joel Hardison, then guidance counselor at Chattanooga’s Lookout Valley High School and now Project 714’s vice-president of programming. After Hardison and Lee established a successful program at Lookout Valley, the Hamilton County school ...

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