The Christmas spirit lives year round at the Three Dimensional Life regeneration home on Old Cornelia Highway.
The 3D center is home to not only 3,000 Christmas trees up for sale during the next month, but also to 15 young men who learn each day what it means to be a good man. Nestled on a 55-acre Christmas tree farm, the 4,500-square-foot home is an alternative to jail for boys ages 13 to 21 charged in drug- or theft-related crimes.
Mike Nixon founded the program three years ago and established the sturdy, yet charming old house as a Christian-based regeneration center that seeks to "embrace young men while still impressionable and impart a legacy of character, integrity, excellence and Godliness."
Many young men come to 3D with a dark past that often includes multigenerational drug abuse, crime and parental divorce. The many counselors and teachers all experienced drug or alcohol addiction firsthand. They aim to intervene in the vicious cycle of addiction that often consumes generation after generation, where negative behaviors are taught and learned with few positive outcomes.
The majority of 3D residents are there by court order, but the nine-month long program doesn't require them to stay against their wishes. "We're not going to hold them here, they want to have to change on their own free will," said Timothy Price, communications director for 3D.
The boys are taught basic skills for life while residing at 3D, and receive individual and family counseling. Program leaders teach the boys how to wash clothes, clean, cook, and better listen and communicate with other people.
"If you don't learn that stuff then you won't become a man later for your family," Price said.
Many of the young men work on the Christmas tree farm at some point during their stay at the center. Five days a week, they spend four hours each day tending to the trees, trimming them and pulling up old stumps to make way for new planting. Price said the labor-intensive work on the tree farm helps the boys to learn a work ethic that helps them later in life.
Casey Fuller, 20, who has lived at 3D for nearly eight months, said that he learned self-discipline through the time he spent working on the tree farm. He often spent his mornings on "stump duty." It took him the better part of an hour to dig up one of the old stumps leftover from trees cut down during last year's Christmas season.
"It taught me how to accomplish things without getting discouraged," he said.
He said his parents were divorced when he was very young, and he grew up with a father who abused alcohol. As a teenager, Fuller engaged in heavy drug abuse and was eventually convicted of numerous crimes. "I was facing life plus 85 years," he said. "I was sitting in jail and I turned to God and said, ‘I can't do it on my own.'"
Instead of serving a portion of that time in prison, Fuller had the option to complete the nine-month 3D program, followed by a 90-day boot camp. Fuller said that when he arrived at 3D, he was severely underweight due to drug abuse, and had a rebellious attitude.
"I used drugs to fix my pain," Fuller said. He quickly added all that changed after a few months at 3D.
"It's helped me a lot," he said. "It's helped me to realize the things I did wrong. I didn't know who God was until I came to 3D."
Fuller now rises each morning at 5:45 to cook breakfast for 20 people. The teachers and counselors at 3D have helped him find his passion: cooking. He now cooks three meals a day for the staff and residents of the center. His favorite meals to prepare include spaghetti, steak and chicken.
"My whole outlook changed since I've been here," Fuller said. "I lived day-by-day then, but now I look at what I'm going to do with my future."
Ben Scranton, 3D's momentum director, said the program seeks to transform the pain, bitterness and anger the boys harbor when they arrive into a life filled with meaning, purpose and direction. "I think what we're aiming for is for these young men to realize who they really are," Scranton said.
Through character building adventures, such as snowboarding or 85-mile hikes on the Appalachian Trail, 3D leaders allow the boys an opportunity to get in touch with their values and interests in a way their former lives did not.
The directors encourage college educations for those who express a desire to attend, and take them on college scouting trips around the country. They also encourage trade school for participants who have found they have a talent in mechanics, technology or the culinary arts. Fuller, for example, plans to attend culinary school upon his release from boot camp
"If I weren't at 3D, I'd be dead right now, because I was going down the wrong path," Fuller said. "This place saved me."
As a nonprofit agency, 3D operates solely on donations and fundraiser profits. Its primary fundraiser, the Christmas tree sale, is currently in full swing. The December Farm trees start at $5 per foot, and Fraiser fir trees are also for sale. The young men of 3D will offer wreaths, tree stands, coffee and hot chocolate, as well as assistance in cutting down trees and loading them into cars.