Mission of YCP: To reclaim youth

Awarded members of the 2022 (2nd cycle) graduating class of Camp Minden YCP. (Photo courtesy of Camp Minden Youth Challenge Program)

By Marilyn Miller

It’s 5:30 a.m. Time to rise and shine!

Some jump out of their bunks, ready for another day.

Some grumble and sit staring.

Yet others roll over and require a second tug of their sheets.

One thing is for sure, starting at 6:15 a.m., at the Camp Minden Youth Challenge Program, Reveille will sound, breakfast will be served, Medical Call will go out, the barracks will be cleaned, personal hygiene will be seen to, an in-ranks inspection will take place, and clothes will be laundered.

Because at 7:55, the 119 young people who are currently enrolled in the five-month Residential phase of youth challenge will be marshalled into formation by the Cadre and marched to their academic classes, which start precisely at 8 a.m., Monday through Friday.

Camp Minden’s Class 2023-1 started on Feb. 12, 2023, so by now expectations are well-known. They know the “Mission” of the YCP, which is “To intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16-18-year-old youth, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.”

When the class arrived at Camp Minden, located just west of Minden on Hwy. 80 at the former Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, the youth all had several things in common. They were between the ages of 16 and 18, they were males and females, they were residents of Louisiana, they were willing to become drug free, they each had volunteered to complete the interview process, and they were each free of any adult felony convictions.

By now, they know what is possible in their lives. To-date, over 27,000 young adults just like them have graduated from the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program statewide. There are two other YCPs in the State, at Camp Beauregard in Pineville and at the Gillis W. Long Center in Carville (near Baton Rouge).

“Our students enter YCP with a desire to make a change in their lives,” said LTC. Kenneth D. Paul, director, Louisiana National Guard Education Programs. “Our focus is to facilitate that change and ensure that every cadet has a chance to succeed personally and academically.”

The class motto is “Learning the Way, Earning the Way.” And each day, students learn more and earn more. Their school day ends at 4 p.m., which is followed by Retreat and Honors to the Flag at 5 p.m. At 5:30, the evening meal is served, and letter writing, personal hygiene and guest speakers begin.


Somewhere between the individual curriculum plans and the self-paced learning, the young people are put through their paces on Camp Minden’s outdoor “Confidence Course,” which includes rappelling from a VERY tall tower, carrying a “wounded” mate over a jagged course, balancing on and crossing a VERY challenging wooden pole, tug-of-war, archery, etc. and marching, marching, marching…

“Everything we do is designed to help our cadets hold their heads high and walk across the stage as YCP graduates knowing that they have attained something they didn’t think they could, such as earning their HiSet (high school equivalency diploma), or recovering/earning high school credits,” LTC. Paul said. “Those are real achievements that some of us may take for granted, but our students do not.”

The YCP looks beyond academics and military-style training. Each cadet is required to complete 40 hours of community service, which teaches them volunteerism through events like Men of Courage, Samaritan’s Purse, the Red River Balloon Rally, the Minden Foundation’s Shoot-Out and Charity Golf Classic, the WP Council on Aging’s Health Fair, the Archery Shooter’s Association Pro/Am Tournament at Camp Minden, the American Legion Booth at the Jaycee Fair, the Methodist Church Camp on Caney Lakes, the YMCA International Volleyball Tournament. YCP teens also worked the concession stands at the Springhill and Ringgold Rodeos, help string Christmas lights for the City of Minden, set up the Kiddie Park for the Minden Christmas Parade, unloaded and set up the pumpkin patch for St. Luke’s UMC in Shreveport, and participated in “Operation Christmas Child” for First Baptist Bossier.

There is also an economic impact on the community. Camp Minden employs a director, deputy director, commandant, Cadre staff, a Counseling Dept. (Masters Degree level), an Education & Academic Dept. (certified teachers), the Post Residential Dept., Dining facility and staff, Supply & Maintenance facility and staff, an Activity Coordinator, and nursing caregivers. Many of these people live and pay taxes in Webster Parish. These people dine in area restaurants and shop at local stores. And Camp Minden YCP makes purchases at area stores and businesses.

Starla Townsend is director of the Camp Minden Youth Challenge Program. Maj. Logan Fileccia is deputy director.


Following completion of the first five-month Residential phase, graduates enter the 12-month Post Residential Phase. During this time, they are assisted by program staff (Case Managers) and Mentors (guidance) from their local communities. Mentors are given training before they are allowed to start meeting with their graduate monthly (or more frequently).  At this time, a graduate could enter the workforce, enroll in college, or enlist in the military.

Camp Minden cadets have an opportunity to earn transferable college credits through a partnership with Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC). And there are scholarships available from the YCP and other two and four-year colleges and universities.

The Louisiana National Guard Job Challenge Program (JCP) is a free post-secondary career training opportunity for selected and eligible YCP graduates. “This unique scholarship provides JCP associates an opportunity to earn critical vocational skills, and to achieve entry level certifications which qualify them for employment with increased earning potential in their chosen fields,” said Megan D. Ready, Public Relations Manager for the LANG Education Programs. “This unique opportunity is only available to 16 to 20-year-old YCP graduates, and currently offers entry-level trade certification training in Emergency Medical Training (EMT), Phlebotomy, Culinary Arts, Welding or Heavy Equipment.”

The 119 young people who chose the Youth Challenge Program as their future have plenty of academic and physical fitness work ahead. But “Family Day” is slated for May 6 and home passes will be given for June 27-July 5. And that BIG day, that big, big day when each cadet will cross that stage and grab that diploma is coming, too. Yes, July 15, 2023, is Graduation Day at Camp Minden! Now throw that hat into the air!!

Camp Minden YCP cadet abseiling (rappelling) the training tower. (Photo courtesy of Camp Minden YCP).

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