DeRidder youth center celebrates first anniversary

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 9:13 PM CDT
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DeRidder, LA (KPLC) - It was a DeRidder man’s dream to open a safe haven for area youth, and now Kingdom Center is celebrating its first year open to the public.

They say it takes a village to care for a child, well try a couple hundred children.

“We had 150 teens that signed up right at the grand opening,” founder Billy Clark said. “We’ve been averaging 30 to 40 teens a day roughly.”

Billy Clark is the man behind Kingdom Center. His job doesn’t just stop or start when the doors open - Clark is a mentor to DeRidder’s youth, offering them a safe place to hang out, and in other times, a meal or a place to sleep.

The mission behind Kingdom Center stems from Clark’s personal experiences.

“Being a fatherless child, first and foremost, I want to create the structure for them,” Clark said. “Give them a good, safe environment, but also a fun environment, an exciting environment. I hope they can look back and say, ‘In the time when I didn’t feel like I had anybody else that would help me, the Kingdom Center was there, and they always had my back,’” he said.

This time last year, Clark and his family were preparing to open the center. Now, Clark’s vision is coming to fruition - a safe but productive space, 100 percent free for the kids.

“We’ve implemented a barbershop where I can cut some teens’ hair, whether some teens can’t afford a haircut or they don’t prioritize it,” Clark said. “We are also launching our Benoit Learning Center. Because everything here is free, we ask them to be transparent about their grades. We are not going to kick them out if they are failing a certain subject, but they can come in there and get their grades right.”

“We’ve also brought a Christian counselor onsite. There is a lot of youth that we work with that have anxiety and depression. We now have a counselor onsite where he is getting to know them, getting to play pool with them,” he said.

It’s a concept that has been graciously accepted by local law enforcement.

“It’s nice for our kids to have a place to go that provides a good consistent message and teaches some life lessons that I think we’ve been lacking, and it’s nice to finally have it,” Beauregard Sheriff Mark Herford said.

It’s changed the lives of those who walk through the doors.

“It’s helped me be a better person, a better son and a better friend, and I’m really getting into church and stuff like that,” Assad Jackson said.

Clark said the center is always in need of volunteers and donors. For more information, you can visit Kingdom Center’s Facebook page.