Nearly a year ago, Caden was faced with two choices — spend time in jail or enter rehab.
“The last time I got arrested, I had the choice of spending time in jail or going to the Paul Anderson Youth Home,” he said. “My intentions were to finish the program and go back to doing the same stuff that I was doing. I slowly started to see a change in myself, and I decided to jump on the opportunity and become a better person.”
This week, Caden, an Auburn native, is one of five residents participating in a 500-mile bike ride to break through the barriers of addiction and raise awareness for the youth home, which strives to provide a Christ-centered, holistic and therapeutic approach toward transforming the lives of young men ages 16 to 21, according to its website.
“If I ever am enabling myself or making excuses that it’s too hard, that I should just go get drunk or get high, I can always say I rode 500 miles on a bike,” Caden said. “If God gives me the strength to ride 500 miles on a bike, then I can stay sober through Christ.”
The ride began Monday in Flagler Beach, Florida, and ends Saturday in Vidalia, Georgia, where the youth home was founded in 1961 by Paul Anderson, who set four official Olympic weightlifting records.
“I’ve been to a bunch of programs, and the difference between this and the other programs is that at the Paul Anderson Home you’re surrounded by people who care about you,” Caden said.
Caden added that the youth home’s staff is both dedicated and understanding, as they have been through many of the same struggles as men like him.
“Some of the staff at the youth home have been through the stuff you’re going through, so they’re willing to take time out of their lives, not just as a job, to show you that they care about you and that they’re willing to pour into you and give you the tools to become a better person,” he said.
Caden, 18, who has been at the youth home for 10 months, spent years battling addiction before deciding it was time to make a change.
"About ninth grade I started smoking weed, and it led me to just slowly getting addicted to more drugs, and it eventually progressed, and I ended up doing bad things like having to steal to supply my addiction, and I cut off all the people who cared about me, my parents and my sister," he said.
One of the most important aspects of Caden’s journey so far has been the development of a relationship with God, something he said he did not have before.
“I have a very strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I think that’s the biggest thing that has helped me,” he said. “For once in my life I’m living with a purpose and it’s to serve God and lead others to Christ in any way that I can.”
Caden plans to return to Auburn within the next four to five months, and he hopes that his story will encourage others his age to reach out for help.
“There is a way out, and you’re not alone. I know that sometimes you can feel very hopeless and you can feel very lost, and I just want to show that everything can get better and God can help you through it,” he said.
For more on the Paul Anderson Youth Home, visit payh.org.