1997 Citizen of the Year: Troy Collier

Along with the rewards of being Daily Press Citizen of the Year in 1997, Troy Collier says, the recognition also carried a burden.

"You feel an awesome responsibility to maybe not do more, but do better," he says.

Collier has met that burden with many accomplishments in 1998.

Youth Challenge, the residential rehabilitation program Collier started on a shoestring budget 20 years ago, has reached its highest plateau to date, Collier says. The Christian program, based at the old Peninsula Catholic High School building on 34th Street in Newport News, is for men and women who suffer primarily from substance abuse problems.

"It's been as good a year as a man could dream or hope for," he says. "Being Citizen of the Year is certainly one of the highlights of my life."

Renovation of the Youth Challenge building was completed this year. Thanks to donations spurred in part by Collier's solid reputation, Youth Challenge's cash budget will increase about 25 percent next year to $600,000, not including property and donated materials, Collier says.

"We thank God and everybody in the community who have made it possible for all of our bills to be paid," he says. "We're looking for a great year next year."

Collier hopes to open two new Youth Challenge programs in January.

First, a halfway house for women who have graduated from the 12-month Youth Challenge program and need help finding a job and a place to live. Second, Youth Challenge will open two halfway houses in the 4900 block of Warwick Boulevard for men who are trying to restart their lives after getting out of jail.

A $50,000 grant from United Parcel Service helped pay for the women's home, located on 36th Street in Newport News. A UPS driver from Collier's church, Warwick Assembly of God, encouraged Collier to apply for the grant.

Collier has had a busy speaking circuit in 1998. In January, he spoke about the importance of religion and rehabilitation at the National Summit on Crime Prevention in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in attendance.

"If the church and the synagogue parking lots in this country were as busy as the court and prison parking lots, we'd probably be a better America," Collier says.

Locally, he has talked with members of Kiwanis clubs, Moose lodges, church groups and civic clubs.

Collier says he still receives congratulations from people for being named Citizen of the Year.

"I was flooded with calls and cards and letters, not only from here, but from Arkansas and California," he says. "I have four sisters that live on the West Coast. There were also friends and young men and women from around the country who have been through the Youth Challenge program."

The next year will be a time of reflection for Collier, who is entering his 20th year as director of Youth Challenge.

"When we started, we moved the program into a 19-room building," Collier recalls. "I think our first year, our cash intake was less than $20,000. It really wasn't enough money to buy a hamburger, hardly. That's what makes it a miracle. It's all because of this community and their caring for people in need."

At 70 years old, Collier says he has no plans to quit.

"I'm shooting for 100," he says. "I'm enjoying life as much or more than I ever have. I hope I can continue in this work helping people until I can't get around. I don't like the word, 'retirement.' "