CAMP MINDEN — When Family Day kicked off for the Youth Challenge Program at Camp Minden Saturday, Altonnesha Pea thought she would be celebrating the day alone.
Thanks to a little "Divine intervention," Pea's prayers were answered.
"It was God," Keewanda Pea, her mother, said. "It was all God."
Keewanda wasn't supposed to be at Camp Minden Saturday, and her daughter wasn't expecting her. With the help of a family friend, however, she was able to leave Ponchatoula at 5 a.m. and make it in time to see her daughter in the marching competition.
"I just couldn't believe it when I saw her," Pea said through her tears. "I'm just so happy she's here."
Pea is one of 220 YCP cadets, many of whom were seeing family members for the first time since they joined the program in February.
Webster Parish cadets Lane Dunn of Sarepta and Kaylee Jackson of Doyline, were two of the lucky ones.
"My dad is here, and I'm really glad to see him," Dunn said. "I've learned a lot since I've been here, and I just told my dad that when I graduate, I want to go into the Navy like he did."
Jackson's stepfather and two siblings joined her for the festivities.
"This program has changed me," the 17-year-old said. "It's shown me the outcome of life. I would suggest this program to anybody who's trying to change their life."
James and Judith Mouton were asked by their grandson, a YCP cadet, to be his mentors during his time at Camp Minden.
"This is a good organization," James Mouton said. "It's working out good for our grandson."
Judith Mouton said their 16-year-old grandson's outlook is much better since he has been in the program. They drive four and one-half hours from their home in Rayne at least once a month to spend time with him.
"If he needs us more often, we come more often," she said. "We just want to help keep him going in the right direction."
For the cadets who had to go it alone Saturday, the Moutons made sure they had "family" to support them.
"We told everybody, if you see any cadets whose families are not here, send them to us," Judith Mouton said. "We will feed them. We did it last time and we will do it again."
Shawn Hatcher is activities director for YCP. This month, he celebrates 13 years with the program. He takes the program for troubled youth very seriously.
"For some of these kids, this is it," Hatcher said. "They've reached a point where they have to think on their own and do on their own. Sometimes my wife says I take it too seriously, but I can't walk away."
This group of cadets came to Camp Minden in February and will graduate July 19. The day before graduation, they will have a special treat – a prom planned especially for them.
"This is the only prom they will ever have," Hatcher said. "Monica Allison helps by measuring the guys for a tux, and we collect prom dresses from people who don't need or want them any more. The girls go into a big room we have and try them on, just like going to the store."
Allison, owner of It's Sew Monica, also takes care of alterations of dresses and tuxedos.
"Al-N-Way takes care of cleaning the dresses; Wayne Avery caters a big spread," Hatcher said. "The community support for this program is just unbelievable."