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Bills offer support to chemically dependent youth

Most NFL quarterbacks fear appearances by Chris Kelsay and John McCargo. But a group of area youths has only smiles when the duo appears.

Kelsay and McCargo are frequent visitors to the Kids Escaping Drugs Renaissance Campus, a 62-bed residential treatment campus designed for the successful rehabilitation of chemically dependent youth.

"I try to go out there every week and hang out with them," McCargo said. "They're overcoming obstacles in life at an early age that most of us don't even have to deal with so I go there and just try to challenge them to beat their addiction and any type of support I can give I'm going to do it."

Kelsay and McCargo said the youth are surprisingly open to talking about their stories.

"They're cool about telling their story," McCargo said. "The program is designed to give them confidence to tell their story about what they used to do. The kids in there are changing. They're not doing drugs anymore and I think that's part of dealing with their problem."

"These kids are not afraid to tell their story," Kelsay said. "They realize they've messed up and they realize they're in a great opportunity to get cleaned up and for the most part they're real open and willing to speak about it."

Kelsay said that openness is geared toward one goal – complete rehabilitation. He said many members of the Renaissance Campus are looking to turn their experiences and paths into a positive teaching point for others.

"I'll give assignments every week and recently I asked them to give me their short and long terms goals and many of them said they wanted to be future counselors and helping kids or people with addictions," Kelsay said. "And that's great and really encouraging to me because they realize they have a problem and also realize that it's an opportunity to make an impact on somebody else."

The campus is designed by age group and sex, according to the specific situations of the patients. The Renaissance House is designed for boys ages 12-17 while the Promise House is for boys ages 18-20 and Stepping Stones is for boys and girls ages 12-20.

Kelsay is a regular visitor to the campus, making an appearance every Friday. He brings his wife, Natalie, when visiting Stepping Stones.

McCargo feels the weekly appearances they make are a motivator for the residents to make progress in their rehabilitation.

"I think when we go over and talk to them it's kind of a break out of their day. So I think they're enjoying it… Hopefully our appearances are a motivator for them because if they do well they get to hang out with us. It's like a school and they have rules and if they do well they can spend more time with us," McCargo said.

McCargo said he plans on bringing a surprise pizza party to the campus on his next visit.

"They're on a strict nutrition program so that might be a good treat for them," he said.

Both McCargo and Kelsay said the most surprising thing they realized since visiting the campus is the wide-ranging effect of drugs and their ability to reach youth of all backgrounds.

"There are good looking boys and girls many of whom are from the suburbs and some with great family backgrounds," Kelsay said. "There are different stories, but it's a bit surprising. But you quickly realize that addiction doesn't discriminate."

Neither does the affection of the Bills. Besides the frequent visits from Kelsay and McCargo, the residents of the Renaissance Campus are being helped by Trent Edwards, Donte Whitner, Leodis McKelvin and Brad Butler.

These players, along with McCargo and Kelsay, will be at the Verizon Wireless Store at the McKinley Mall Monday, November 3 to sign autographs for Bills fans who make a $30 donation and receive a limited edition Bills poster.

And all the efforts to help are geared toward one cause.

Said McCargo.

"If us stopping by helps keep them on track then it's all worth it."

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