MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This holiday season, WCCO’s “Trees of Hope” campaign is partnering with organizations that help make lives brighter all year long.

This week, our set is decked out in colorful ornaments and ribbons to celebrateMinnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. The group offers treatment plans for our neighbors who are struggling with addiction.

Some of the people being treated are students, others are grandparents. Some are on the streets, while others are working professionals who hide addiction well.

One couple especially shows what the program is all about. Seth and Gina Evans seem like a pretty typical couple, at a glance. But things aren’t always as they appear.

“I have done just about every drug that’s imaginable and done just about everything necessary to maintain that addiction,” Seth said.

Gina says she began using drugs as a teenager.

“I started using IV drugs when I was 15 years old, ended up in jail the first time at 16. And as an adult, I have 12 felony convictions,” Gina said. “I’ve been to Shakopee Women’s Prison three different times, the state of Minnesota permanently terminated my parental rights for my kids.”

So how did these parents from Stacy go from being legally bound from their kids to sharing family vacations in Cancun?

“When I got out of prison the last time, I came to Teen Challenge and really learned that I’m redeemable,” she said. “That I may have made those mistakes in my life, but that I’m not a mistake.”

But to fully understand how far Seth and Gina have come, you have to go back.

“Being a part of a really dysfunctional family growing up … I didn’t feel like I deserved anything,” Gina said.

Seth says he was living on his own at 15, and became an IV user around that time.

Their lives had never intersected at that point, but their paths were parallel.

“I think that that’s a thing that Seth and I definitely have in common,” Gina said. “There was a point in our lives where we just decided that ‘no more,’ and Teen Challenge was just instrumental in that change.”

For Seth, a young father who had ended up in Minneapolis because of the drug market, he heard about the program while locked up,

“From what I saw, I had never met anyone in jail that had graduated the program, and so that said something to me about its success rate,” Seth said.

So a pastor dropped him off with just the old shirt on his back.

“When I walked through the doors of Teen Challenge, it was immediate acceptance. People that poured love over me. I mean, I was accepted,” he said. “Within a half hour, I had a closet full of clothes.”

He enrolled in a 13-month program, and Gina was enrolled in a similar one.

“After a few months, my colors kinda started showing through, attitudes really started to show through,” she said.

Seth says it was no longer about swapping recipes for meth.

“It was about helping each other out,” he said.

With hours and hours of counseling, and programs to show them what life can be like after drugs, they both successfully graduated. And a few years later, Seth and Gina met at an alumni event.

Now Seth uses his knowledge of the hard life as a chaplain in the Ramsey County Jail. And Gina uses her hustling skills to problem solve as a Teen Challenge staffer.

“They really taught me that I could draw a line in the sand and say, ‘I may have been that person before, but here’s who I am now,'” Gina said.

The couple blended families and added a grandson, all thanks to a place that gave them a clear picture of what could be.

The program that changed the Evans’ lives is free. That’s why donations to this group are so important.

Click here to give to Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield