|Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch serves a great purpose--April 2014|
BY CHARLIE CREEL
There are a number of common denominators that unite the Sheriffs of Florida. We are all committed to fighting criminal activity in our communities and we all share a great love, admiration and adoration for the work being done by the dedicated individuals who serve the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches.
Since 1957, the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches have given the state’s at-risk youth a place to go and become successful as they leave their teenage years and head into early adulthood. The dream of several Florida sheriffs at that time became a reality as many young boys turned their lives around and became productive adults.
The Boys Ranch now has places for 82 boys and a visit to the Live Oak area campus shows them participating in baseball, swimming, volleyball, canoeing and arts and crafts. The boys also take part in a number of special events throughout the year on their sprawling 140 acre campus. The youths attend classes, live together and eat in a campus environment.
Their vision is to create men and women who are able to face the future with a sense of direction, ability and hope. Anyone who has ever set foot on one of the several properties in Florida can feel the good that is going on inside the walls of the facility.
The closest youth ranch to Wakulla County is located in rural Suwannee County and serves male residents including some who come from Wakulla County. One of the most enjoyable things I get to do as sheriff is visit the facility from time-to-time and speak to the boys whose lives are being impacted and changed for the positive.
They seem to fully understand that the Youth Ranch is giving them a real shot at success in their lives and many of the youths take full advantage of the opportunity.
It is a charitable organization that is a non-profit corporation with the Office of the President located at the Boys Ranch near Live Oak.
A child is admitted to the Youth Ranches after a family case manager completes a screening to determine what problems exist between the child and the family. If the child appears to be a candidate for the program they are asked to go to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches web site to fill out an application. After filling out the application, the document is approved by the Sheriff in the individual’s home county.
After the youth and family fill out the form, the case manager returns to review the family dynamics for potential admission. The child is invited to an on-campus interview and placement at the facility is either approved or denied by a campus admissions committee. If the committee feels that child is not right for the Youth Ranches, a referral is given to the family regarding another organization that may be better suited to meet the needs of the family.
After the child is admitted to the program the family is expected to contribute financial support to the child to the best of their ability. But no child is turned away based on the family’s inability to pay.
Part of the experience to help the child relates back to his or her ability to work. In addition to taking care of their own living area, the child is given a job with regular hours and salary to provide spending money.
The Youth Ranches provide social services to the children and their families with trained counselors. The counselors are in addition to the teachers, youth care specialists, cottage parents, unit directors and general staff that are part of the Ranch operation.
The program is open to Florida residents ages 8 to 18. The Ranchers cannot be habitual juvenile offenders and they must not have any other resources available to them for a healthy living environment. They cannot have severe personality problems that would endanger themselves or others and they can’t have a dependency on alcohol or drugs. The youths must also be recommended for the program by the sheriff of their county of residence.
The Youth Ranches are designed to keep youths an average of 14 months but the length of stay has decreased in many cases for students because their parents or guardians are also being exposed to the program. The goal is to reunite the youth with his or her family in as short an amount of time possible, but in some cases the youth has nowhere to go and in those cases the youth remains at the Ranches until he or she is ready to enter the adult world on their own.
The Family Life Education component includes required parental involvement during meetings and with comprehensive curriculum as a way to keep the relatives of the youths involved in the activities and progress being made while also creating a conduit to the family when the youth is ready to be released from the Ranches program.
The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches are licensed and accredited as are the camp programs offered during the summer months. The reaccreditation process occurs every three years.
All children are considered for admission regardless of the applicant’s race, creed or color.
Another outstanding aspect of the summer programs is that deputy sheriffs and other law enforcement volunteers can get personally involved with the youths to form positive, healthy relationships. Campers live among their peers and learn how to share and function properly within the group setting. Each child has job responsibilities and the day contains a healthy balance between work and play. This also builds a respect toward law enforcement and eliminates built up fears.
The Youth Ranches have a Harmony in the Schools program which teaches leadership and team building programs and addresses relevant issues of today such as anti-bullying, violence prevention and cultural awareness. Harmony in the Streets is a camping program that helps youths develop and retain a high level of self-esteem while also learning how to utilize free time positively and developing positive role modeling leadership skills. It addresses acceptance of others and appreciation of cultural differences in others.
* Since the Boys Ranch is closest to Wakulla County, I have talked more about it than the other facilities. You have to go down to the Central Florida Gulf Coast to find the Safety Harbor and Bradenton-Sarasota campuses and south central Florida to find the Youth Villa in Bartow.
* The second facility established by the Florida Sheriffs Association was the Girls Villa in 1970 which opened to residents in 1972. It has since changed its name to Youth Villa. The idea was to provide a sister program to the Boys Ranch with the same structure, opportunities and guidance for troubled girls in Florida. The Villa serves 46 youths.
* Safety Harbor residential program was established in 1978 as a coeducational facility which allowed brothers and sisters to stay together while they worked through their issues. It was the third residence facility established by the Florida Sheriffs Association. Safety Harbor has a capacity of 30 children.
* The Bradenton-Sarasota facility was founded in 1984. The program is open to 29 boys with a future growth goal of 60 children.
* Caruth Camp in Inglis started as a wilderness education program for boys in 1986 following donations of land from the Caruth family of Dallas, Texas and the Georgia-Pacific Corporation. In 1997, Caruth Camp was converted from the wilderness program to a Youth Camp.
* Youth Camp Barberville was once a Girl Scout Camp which was acquired in 1982. It is on 200 acres of forested property. The camp serves hundreds of dependent, neglected and troubled youth. The camping experience is designed to give boys and girls a wholesome, loving, educational and carefree atmosphere where they can be themselves. The interactions between campers and staff helps youths overcome negative attitudes and create positive attributes.
If you believe that your child might benefit from this type of an experience you may contact the Region 1 Intake Coordinator Justin Crymes at (800) 765-2697 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wakulla County is one of 41 Florida counties served by Region 1.
In Wakulla County, we have been impressed with the impact that the program has had on local youths who have attended. We have also had local residents serve as summer camp counselors and come back and report that the interaction between themselves and the youths has left a lasting impression on both the camper and the counselor.
I believe the Youth Ranches meet their mission of “preventing delinquency and developing strong, lawful, resilient and productive citizens who will make a positive contribution to our communities for years to come.”
I invite you to visit the Boys Ranch or Youth Villa for yourself and look over the property and programs. You can visit them on the Internet at www.youthranches.org or call 1-800-765-3797.
I hope everyone has a Happy Easter and a great Spring!