CAMP MINDEN, LA (KSLA) - Troubled teens and their parents are turning to a military-style program in Webster Parish designed to get them back on track.
"Momma momma can't you see? What the Army has done for me..." A loud chant in unison is belted out by 211 once troubled teenagers trying to change their lives.
At the Youth Challenge Program at Camp Minden, LA, cadets volunteer for a grueling 17 month program filled with pushups, discipline and a chance at a positive future. "I believe in my heart what matters as far as our future is concerned are these kids and giving them an opportunity in life to succeed," said YCP directed, Chief Warrant Officer Myron Turner.
And to do that, Turner and his staff of Army cadre and civilians take in almost broken kids who were once into drugs, partying and skipping school. Many dropped out altogether.
The main goal here is to get them get them back on track. The first five months of the program which are filled with rigorous Army-style training and daily classroom instruction for a chance to earn a GED. "It's been interesting and fun," said Dana Foster, one of the teachers at YCP who takes pride in molding these students into model citizens.
These cadets are unplugged. There are no cell phones, no social media and males and females are separated. Foster said that leads to more focused learning. On average, cadets here excel to three grade levels higher than when they first enter the program.
Foster tells his students there are two options in life: fight or give up. "Of course I make sure they know by fighting, you stay in the fight and keep trying no matter what so you can either do that or you can quit," said Foster.
Many of these kids don't quit. The graduation rate is over 80%. After this group graduates in January, they will move on to the post-residential phase which includes teaching job skills and eventually finding a new job.
That's something 17-year-old Jean Flores of Haughton, LA looks forward to. He decided to take control of his life the day his parents didn't let him back into the house after nights of partying and drugs. He enrolled in YCP. "I came here for the hopes that I make my parents proud my mom proud, my grandparents proud ... just do right for once you know," said Flores.
Ten weeks into the program, Flores' grandmother says she's already noticed a change. "He's changed so drastically since he came in," said Rose Grandfors, who happens to be a post-residential counselor at YCP. "He came in this pudgy little dumpy fella and now he's lean and he's fit physically fit. He seems happy."
17-year-old Krystal Alcantra of Kenner, LA had a falling out with her father. She acted out and was kicked out of public school for destruction of property and fighting. She said YCP has changed her life. "I feel more motivated," said Alcantra. "I can do things and I don't look down on myself and say I can't do this. It's more like I can do that."
Many of these students admit that if it were not for YCP, they would be a negative statistic, possible caught up in crime. When you look at the cost of that compared to this program, the numbers are eye-opening.
According to Louisiana National Guard YCP officials, Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration and dropout rates in the nation. Over 8,000 students drop out every year.
Each Juvenile Justice offender costs the state an estimated $115,255 per year (12 months). Each Youth Challenge cadet costs only $15,000 per year (17 months).
Additionally, LA-YCP cadets perform an average of 80,640 hours of community service per year. YCP adds that up as a cost savings to communities of $1,558,771.
To find out more about the program, call 1800-CAMP-KID.