By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Troubled teens receive a “second chance” by pushing themselves physically, academically and socially as part of the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program, which includes a 5 ½-month residential alternative military-like school at the Gillis W. Long Center on the old Indian Plantation grounds in Carville.  

st gabriel.tif

Pictured with youth at the Louisiana Youth Challenge at Gillis Long Center in Carville are, Father Charlie Landry, left, pastor of St. Gabriel Church in St. Gabriel and Sacred Heart Chapel at Carville, Deacon Kirk Duplantis, second from right, St. Gabriel and Sacred Heart, and his wife, Rozalyn, third from right. Photo provided by Glenda Slayton  

 

When YCP cadets bring their aching muscles, “brain fatigue,” frustrations and pride in their successes to a youth retreat led by Sacred Heart Chapel in Carville and St. Gabriel Church in St. Gabriel, grace awakens them to the God of second chances.  

The most recent class of YCP graduates and retreat attendees received their diplomas at Bethany Church South Campus in Baton Rouge on March 23.  

Rozalyn Duplantis and her husband, Deacon Kirk Duplantis, deacon assistant at St. Gabriel, and St. Gabriel pastor Father Charlie Landry developed the retreat to provide for youth’s spiritual growth.  

At the Duplantis’ first Mass at Sacred Heart, shortly after Deacon Duplantis was assigned to St Gabriel and Sacred Heart, which is located on the Indian Plantation grounds, Rozalyn noticed the first few pews were vacant.  

“Minutes before Mass started, the sound of marching and drills being shouted, echoed and kept getting louder as the footsteps approached. In marched approximately 20 cadets in their khaki pants and green shirts. Boys on one side and girls on the other. The cadets never made eye contact with anyone except their commanders.”  

During the next couple of weeks, Rozalyn helped cadets become more comfortable participating in Mass.  

“The third week comes and I am waiting on the cadets, but there was no marching. No drills far off,” said Rozalyn. “We were told that the cadets would not be joining us due to a riot that had just broken out and they were in the process of investigating and resolving the problem … After Mass, Father Charlie, Kirk and myself discussed our concern for the cadets on our usual ride from Carville back to St. Gabriel for the next Mass.” 

Deacon Duplantis asked if a retreat could be held to decrease tensions among the cadets, and Father Landry “got the ball rolling.”  

The National Guard agreed and the retreat was held at the old leprosy hospital, also on the Indian Plantation grounds, Rozalyn said.  

“It’s ironic that a place where the church used to heal those discarded for heath issues, is now being used to heal those discarded for behavioral issues,” said Rozalyn. f

The retreat opens with ice-breakers, Scripture and prayer. Throughout the day there are fun activities to help the youth “loosen up.”

“The most memorable moment at the retreat was when we sang and danced,” said Cadet Smith, who was a lector at the retreat. “I thought most were a bit unsure of what to do at first, but music gets into you so we became more relaxed.”  

Then cadets “created something” from potter’s clay.  

“After given ample time, one from each group is asked to share what they made and why … And it never fails, someone fusses that their clay is cracking or breaking as it dried,” said Rozalyn. “We pass around the magnifying glass so that the cadets can see their prints on their creation. Then we talk about how decisions we make and decisions others in our lives make can cause cracks or wounds in our lives, but God’s not done with us yet.  

“We add more water and rework the clay. The more we work the clay, the more we leave our print on our creation. Just like, as broken as we are, God works on us and leaves his print in our hearts.”  

Working with clay was the most memorable part of the retreat for Cadet Hill. 

“From the retreat and life at YCP I’ve learned that no matter how I feel, I can always choose to have a positive attitude,” said Hill.  

Deacon Duplantis talks about being broken in a broken world, and Father Landry discusses daily prayer and avoiding day-to-day temptations.  

Rozalyn gives the final talk, “How to Forgive so that I Can Be Who God Needs Me To Be.” She relate the struggles she faced in overcoming mental, physical and emotional abuse.  

“These cadets are hurt and acting on anger from their hurt. They are carrying years of scars, bad behaviors and resentments. I teach them to pray for those that hurt them,” said Rozalyn.  

Cadets can write down their burdens and place them at the foot of the cross. The next day those burdens are brought up during the offertory at Mass.  

The messages on forgiveness appealed to Cadet Nelson.  

“A lesson I learned from the retreat was to always forgive someone for what they have done to you and do not hold a grudge against anyone. I also learned that no matter what I may have done in my life, I can still have a chance to change,” said Nelson, who plans to work and attend college in Tennessee.  

Deacon Duplantis emphasized youth find their sense of purpose through the retreat.  

“They want more of God and a deeper faith,” he said.  

Deacon Duplantis stated the retreat and YCP program combine faith and discipline to help the graduates succeed.  

When he recently had his car serviced and washed, he and an employee tried to place where they had previously met. Deacon Duplantis mentioned he was deacon at St. Gabriel and Sacred Heart and the young man’s eyes lit up as he was a graduate from YCP and attended the retreat.  

“He said ‘Thank you and your wife and Father Charlie for all you did,’ ” said Deacon Duplantis. “They know that know matter what happens (after YCP graduation) God has a plan for them.”  

Father Landry said the Carville Masses and retreats let the youth know “they’re welcome and it helps them with their own healing and their own confidence.”  

They help serve at Mass as lector, usher, etc., which encourages them to become more involved in their own church parishes.  

“There’s a sense of comfortableness they experience with us, and they’re very grateful for that,” said Father Landry.  

Cadet Honoré realized during the retreat “with faith, I can face my own problems like a man and stand on my own two feet.”  

“One thing I learned about myself during the retreat is the lesson Deacon Kirk drove home; when I think I can’t do something, I really can do it,” said Honoré.  

Cadet Mecklenburg agreed.  

“I was surprised to discover my faith wasn’t as strong as I thought,” Mecklenburg said.  

Glenda Slayton, instructor at YCP and member of Sacred Heart/St. Gabriel, said the youth seek wholeness in their lives.  

“They come from a variety of backgrounds,” said Slayton. “Some have been in foster care, some have been living on the streets, some have belonged to gangs, some come from divorced homes. They open up about things that happened in their lives. They express how they want to grow spiritually.”  

She had witnessed the Holy Spirit nudging the cadets to better themselves. Some apply themselves and receive their high school equivalency credentials.  

“I never stop praying. As I’m walking I always have my rosary praying,” Slayton said.  

She added, “My surprise about myself after the experiences at the retreat and YCP was really something I already knew about but needed to remember. I am very goofy, but more that that I was reminded that God is extremely forgiving and loves us no matter what.”  

And youth were eager to grasp onto the chance to start over.

Cadet Haase said, “A surprising thing I’ve learned about myself during the retreat and my overall experience at YCP is that I’ve grown into a better person than I have ever been before,” said Haase.  

Cadet Waldrop, likewise, learned God accepts and forgives those who obey and give him praise.  

“The retreat reminded me of how I’ve overcome some challenges in my life,” said Waldrop. “God put me on my path to help me get to where I am today. I’ve learned that if you want to get better, you have to make changes. It isn’t about being given, it’s about being earned. No one can change you but you, and you have to accept it if you want better.”