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Kuchler, Kenneth
/ Categories: Cadets



Samuel Turns Plenty, a cadet for Montana Youth Challenge Academy, holds a patch designating him leader of the program’s 2nd Platoon. He graduated on Dec. 16, 2017 after undergoing the program’s residential and mentor phases.

When Samuel Turns Plenty left Hardin High School for the Montana Youth Challenge Academy, he was in a "bad place," according to his mother Karri Jaden. "Samuel wasn’t doing so well in school and he wanted something different," she said. "He needed to come out of his shell. He needed to find himself."

To get his life in order, Turns Plenty made the decision to attend MYCA starting Jan. 17, 2017 with 73 other cadets. MYCA – located on the campus of University of Montana-Western in Dillon, Mont. – is an academy for at-risk youth ages 16-18 who are in danger of not finishing their education.

During their time at the academy, cadets like Turns Plenty are placed in a quasi-military environment and given the opportunity to develop their skills in subjects such as reading comprehension, language usage, spelling, and math computation and application. The program also provides the opportunity for its students to obtain a HiSet (formerly a GED).

The academy operates in two stages, the first being a residential phase where the cadets are trained for about 22 weeks. The second stage is the mentor phase, held off-campus, during which time their mentors check in on the cadets four times a month for the next year.

Once at the academy, his turnaround happened pretty quickly, according to MYCA Marketing Coordinator Ron Carroll. Within weeks, he already was showing signs of being a leader. By the end of the program, he placed in charge of one of MYCA’s three platoons.

Turns Plenty recently was awarded the MYCA Director’s Coin, which Carroll said was extremely rare – he has been with the program since 1999 and has no memory of another cadet earning it.

"Cadet Turns Plenty was recognized for his heroic life-saving action while participating in a Service to Community event at the Last Chance Pow Wow in Helena earlier this cycle," an MYCA Facebook post from Nov. 8 states. "Cadet Turns Plenty took immediate action to assist another volunteer, who he realized was choking, by administering the Heimlich maneuver."

Though the post states he had learned the Heimlich maneuver before this incident, Carroll said this was not the case, as MYCA does not teach that form of first aid until the last few weeks of the program’s residential phase. His life-saving action caught many people by surprise and left them wondering how he knew what to do. Even Turns Plenty himself isn’t certain.

For the program’s second phase, the Challenge Academy trains its mentors – who are picked by the cadets – in how to support and encourage them, and keep them from falling back into old habits. His mentor, Moses Gonzales, also served in the role for Turns Plenty’s older brother when he went through MYCA. "We call them the backbone of the program," Carroll said, "and I really think they are."

After MYCA cadets graduated on Dec. 16 as part of its 37th class, the academy continued to keep in touch with them. This is what sets MYCA apart from other programs of a similar nature, according to Carroll, who receives mail from graduates on a regular basis. "There’s not a day, week or month that goes by that we don’t get a letter or a card or a drop-in from a former cadet or parent," he said.

So, where is Turns Plenty now? Currently, he plans on returning to high school, then signing on to join the military when he is old enough. "It was hard at first letting him go down there because he’s never been away," Jaden said, "but I like to see the change in him…he has goals now. There are things he wants to do."

In the future, Turns Plenty is thinking about joining the National Guard and he also plans to attend college.

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