Nick Argentino's story of falling into drug use isn't unusual.
His father died when he was 15, leaving Argentino feeling lost. He used drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.
Almost 15 years later, he was addicted to heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. He weighed just 105 pounds.
Then he overdosed.
"I cried out to for help to my Lord, and the next day I was on my way to Teen Challenge," Argentino told members of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon Monday.
He credits Teen Challenge -- a nonprofit ministry that helps teens and young men break addictions to substance abuse -- not only with saving his life, but also making it worth living.
"They gave me a strong base of encouragement," Argentino said. "The way I look at life -- now I am a pillar of strength in my family. ... The only way I could overcome all of these things that were detrimental to my life was having something like Teen Challenge."
Pastor Jesse Campos, executive director of Teen Challenge in the Tri-Cities, told chamber members he wants to take his organization a step further and help young men who are affiliated with gangs to break free from destructive gang culture.
"We all know there's a gang problem in the Tri-Cities," Campos said.
He aims to start a new program under the Teen Challenge banner called FIRME Gang Outreach. "FIRME" as an acronym stands for "future impact by reaching youth through mentorship and education."
Campos is hoping to reach the 70 percent of gang members who are Hispanic and show them there's another way, a way that instills self-confidence and offers hope for their futures.
"We want to reach out to these gang members and express love and acceptance in their lives," he said.
The program would help middle- and high-school kids who have been expelled from school or dropped out to take online classes to finish their schooling and get their diplomas.
Teens participating in the FIRME program also would take leadership classes, and be matched with mentors who would help guide them away from the influence of gangs and help them learn how to make better decisions about their lives.
Campos is looking for $10,000 to get the program started. He also needs volunteers to serve as mentors.
"Teen Challenge works," he said. "People say it's useless, that it's a never-ending fight. That may be. But with community partnership and help, there's still hope in the Tri-Cities for these guys."
Teen Challenge is having a fundraising banquet at 6 p.m. May 20 at the Clarion Hotel, 1515 George Washington Way, Richland. Cost is $40 per person.
For more information, visit http://bit.ly/tricityteens.
Chamber members also heard from Greg Falk, president of the Boys & Girls Club of Benton and Franklin Counties.
Falk talked about the Fast Forward program, which is designed to help teens who have dropped out of school to get back into school or into programs to get a high school equivalency diploma.
The program started in September and so far has helped six people get their diplomas.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org