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Montana Youth Challenge Academy celebrates 50th class graduation and 25 years of serving youth

Hronek speaking with cadets
Posted at 8:00 PM, May 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-14 22:00:42-04

HELENA — This summer is the 25th anniversary of Montana Youth Challenge Academy (MYCA).

Once this class graduates, the school will have helped over 4,000 cadets.

MYCA Cadets

"My mind was really foggy before I came here. I didn't know what I was going to do or what plans I had for the future," said 16-year-old Dominic DeFilippis.

He is one cadet who is attending MYCA.

DeFilippis said, "I had poor life choices before I came here. I was failing out of school, I was skipping school, I wasn't going down the right path."

His parents set up an interview with a recruiter for the academy.

"I don't think I've looked back since. It was a really good choice for me to come here," he said.

Cadets getting ready to hike

The recruiter DeFilippis spoke with was Mark McGinley, who has been with MYCA for four and a half years.

McGinley said, "You're working with kids we call "at-risk kids," [but] no, they're not at risk. They just need a second chance sometimes."

MYCA is a 22-week program with a military structure.

Cadets wake up at 5:00 AM, get ready for the day, and have accountability to ensure everyone is there.

After six hours of school, cadets attend physical fitness training and have some downtime before bed at 9:00 PM.

Close-up of cadets

Students only have access to technology for school.

"They learn quickly' I can live without my phone. I can live without the internet,'" said McGinley.

The Montana National Guard funds 75% of the academy, with the state funding the other 25%—so it is free for children to attend.

Montana National Guard adjutant general Maj. Gen. Pete Hronek said, "We know that our youth have great potential, but there's just a few that before they get too far off the track, we bring them back."

Major General Pete Hronek

He visits the cadets multiple times a year.

"I call it my happy place. Being around young kids keeps me young," said Hronek.

While the program has a success rate of roughly 85%, cadets still face challenges at MYCA.

DeFilippis said, "I miss my mom and dad, which is pretty hard, but I'm definitely looking forward to graduating and getting through the program."

You can find more information about Montana Youth Challenge Academy here.