St. Cloud Youth Leadership Academy, Ninth Year at Camp Ripley
July 23, 2021 (CAMP RIPLEY, Minnesota) — The St. Cloud Police Department’s Youth Initiative Program’s St. Cloud Youth Leadership Academy (SCYLA) is continuing their yearly one-week camp at Camp Ripley July 12 through July 16, 2021.
The purpose of the program is to offer support, build relationships and mentor youth in the St. Cloud area. The camp focuses on three pillars: respect, responsibility, and trust. These pillars are addressed in the classroom as well as through team-building activities.
This year there are roughly 15 kids participating in the event. Each child is selected by school resource officers after submitting an application.
School Resource Officer for Tech and Oak Hill High Schools Ofc. Rachel Johnson has been involved with the program for four years. She says that the program challenges kids to have confidence in themselves.
“It allows us to build relationships with the kids to guide and support them through challenges,” said Johnson. “We teach team building, being positive, being a leader, and believing in themselves.”
The boys’ camp is held at Camp Ripley every year. The kids, ages 13-17 years old, participated in a team building obstacle course, paintball, fishing, basketball, football and various educational activities including guest speakers from the community.
The students were able to build bonds with each other while learning how to work as a team and communicate.
One of the boys who went through the academy was Anthony Broden. He says that he enjoyed spending time with many of the officers throughout the week.
“I enjoyed SCYLA,” said Broden. “It’s an experience I haven’t done before.”
At the end of the week, the boys traveled from Camp Ripley to the St. Cloud Police Department to join for the graduation ceremony. The students marched to the front of the room dressed in unison with slacks, ties and suspenders, singing cadences. Chief Blair Anderson began the ceremony with the opening remarks.
“Nothing has given me greater pleasure as a peace officer than to do the same thing for our young people that somebody did for me,” said Anderson. “This is something that I am very passionate about.”
Anderson went on describe the relationship between the students and the officers after the camp. SCYLA remains a big part of their lives throughout the rest of their high school career.
“Somebody in one of these uniforms is going to be in their face from now until they graduate from high school,” said Anderson. “And believe me when I tell you, there’s something about that principal or dean or assistant principal telling one of our SCYLA kids, ‘do I need to call the drill master?’ They know what that means.”
After the opening remarks, the drill sergeants introduced each kid one by one. They spoke about how well they did and how they earned their nicknames.
One kid was nicknamed Skittles because he tried to sneak skittles into the camp while another was called Wifi because he was more concerned with connecting to the internet than paying attention during the first day.
After the introductions, each child was given a certificate of graduation and the opportunity to shake hands with the Chief of the Police Department and other notable officers.
Anthony Broden received the first annual Drill Sergeant’s Award of Excellence.
“The man that held the glue together,” said Drill Sergeant Ryan Sayre. “He helped out his teammates when they were struggling every time.”
After the graduation ended, the children were released to their families with open arms. Hugs and laughter took over the room as they embraced after a week apart. While the students of SCYLA Class 2021 were happy to be with their families, it was obvious that they had made some lifelong connections with each other and the cadre.
“We laughed together, cried together,” said Sayre. “They know they should be very proud of themselves because not many kids go through what they went through.”
Story by Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh, Camp Ripley public affairs