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The goal of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches is to help young men and women succeed as adults. We provide a family full of patience, love and gentle guidance in an effort to help these children focus on their goals. With the creation of the Polk Sheriff’s Charities Scholarship House, the Youth Ranches has the unique ability to see that success unfold as our youth enter the adult world.
When Jeff graduated high school, he admitted that he didn’t really have a plan.
“When I was a kid, you never heard of going to college,” Jeff said. “People don’t graduate [high school] where I’m from. So when I got offered a college scholarship, I decided I’m going to take this opportunity and be the first one to graduate out of my whole family.”
Jeff’s family immigrated to the United States when he was barely a teenager. The poverty-ridden environment he had grown up in taught him to be tough and cruel as a means of survival.
“When I got over here, I had everything in my hands,” he said, “but I still had the same attitude I had back there. I didn’t want to listen to anybody.”
When Jeff began getting into trouble as a teenager, his family convinced him to consider the Youth Ranches.
“They said it will be a great opportunity and I would succeed there,” he said. Despite his anger and attitude, Jeff’s family saw his work ethic from an early age. They knew that the environment at the Ranch was exactly what he needed to start working toward a successful future. Jeff didn’t just succeed at the Ranch—he thrived.
“We have people that really care about us,” he said. “That’s something people don’t understand—they think the staff just follows the rules. But these people are here to help you. They have wisdom and they will teach you if you listen.”
With the support he received at the Ranch, Jeff dropped his tough exterior and began working on his grades so he could graduate high school on time. He began taking his job on campus seriously and taking odd jobs in the local community that reignited a lifelong passion for cars.
“I always liked cars, no matter what kind it is,” Jeff said.
Working repair jobs at the Ranch gave Jeff the opportunity to do some hands-on learning and helped prepare him for the future.
After graduating high school, Jeff decided to go to the Polk Sheriff’s Charities Scholarship House, not sure if he was really interested in furthering his education. He found a certification program at a local technical college and realized that his dream of working with cars could very easily become a reality.
Two years later, Jeff is getting ready to graduate as a certified technician for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram. Even as a student, he was able to find a job at a local car dealership and learn alongside expert mechanics. The relationships he has forged in this shop have helped him come to terms with this new set of goals he set for himself. Maturing became a top priority for Jeff in recent years. While the Scholarship House provides a safe jumping-off point for young adults, their personal success is wholly dependent on the effort they put into it. Jeff learned very quickly that if he wanted to get anywhere, it was up to him.
“I learned that you have to push yourself to become better,” he said.
As the youngest tech in the dealership service department where he works, Jeff was able to learn from the adults around him. They playfully tease their young protégé and keep him involved with the work they do while still modeling how an adult operates in the workforce. This inclusion helps Jeff to learn even more, both for the job and for his own personal
While at work, Jeff moves from station to station, checking in with his co-workers. His voice echoes off the metal tool chests and pieces of equipment in the high-ceilinged garage. Jeff’s energy and bright smile are infectious, and the other mechanics respond with jokes and greetings.
In the shop, he helps one of his coworkers raise a car on a hydraulic lift and grabs a flashlight off a tool bench to inspect underneath the vehicle. While the other mechanic reads off the customer’s concerns from a computer screen, Jeff does a basic inspection to see if the problem is obvious or something more challenging.
“I actually love when it’s a challenge,” Jeff said. “I like doing the research and figuring out what’s wrong. There’s always more to learn.”
Jeff has come a long way from the angry, confused kid who arrived at the Boys Ranch six years ago. Now he is a confident young adult with a promising future working in a field he loves.
His advice? “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “You’re your own person.”
When you give to the Youth Ranches, you help boys and girls like Jeff find the courage and drive to become successful adults. Your generosity provides a loving home, a quality education, and opportunities for a bright future.
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As a photojournalist for a major news network, Harlan Schmidt doesn’t have a typical workday. When he is given his work schedule, he has to be ready to move. As President Trump landed at Joint Base Andrews on December 31, 2020, Harlan was on the tarmac, ready to get a news-worthy photo. Harlan has traveled all over the country in pursuit of his career and currently resides in Washington, D.C.
Twenty-five years ago, this reality seemed far out of reach. In 1994, 14-yearold Harlan had landed himself in trouble. His younger sister had been born several years earlier with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects a child’s motor functions. This took a lot of attention off of Harlan, who found himself with more freedom than he knew what to do with.
“I was a latchkey kid,” he said. “I’d come home and there was no one there. My parents were so invested in focusing on my sister that I basically hit puberty and went off and did whatever I wanted.”
Harlan would come home from school to an empty house. His parents both worked full-time jobs and had to make sure his sister made it to doctor’s appointments would grab his bike and meet up with the boys in his neighborhood.
“I don’t want to call them friends,” he said. “They were like frenemies. The people that I spent time with were all just bad, involved in bad things in one way or another.”
As he fell in with this group of boys, Harlan’s negative behavior escalated until he was stealing, breaking and entering, and getting involved with drugs.
“I was just being a juvenile delinquent because I had very little supervision and the environment that I was in at the time was pulling me in that direction.”
When Harlan was caught stealing a canoe from a couple in his neighborhood, he was presented with a choice.
“The couple said their son had gone to the Ranch, and they wouldn’t press charges if I joined,” he recalled.
After spending almost a year on the waiting list, Harlan was called up to the Boys Ranch in Live Oak, Florida. With his whole world having encompassed his neighborhood and the handful of boys he spent time with, coming to live at the Youth Ranches was a major change.
“I was around boys from all over the state. I met kids from Miami and Ocala and Plant City. It exposed me to other cultures,” Harlan said.
The boys ranged from rural cowboys to inner-city youth, all at the Ranch for a chance to turn their lives around. Harlan, son of a photojournalist, immediately found himself fascinated with the stories these boys could tell.
“I walked around with a tape recorder and I would interview other boys, asking for their stories,” Harlan said. “I would ask them how they got there and the stories were funny and tragic and sarcastic.”
The more stories Harlan collected, the more he realized something was different about him. He learned about boys who had been in dozens of foster homes and boys from living situations that were nothing like Harlan had ever experienced.
“I could tell I was different,” Harlan said. “I realized very quickly how fortunate I was because I had a family. So many boys there had to have the Ranch just to get by. They were going to live there until they were 18 years old.”
Some part of Harlan’s brain understood this fact: he had a mom and a dad to go home to, and some of these boys only had the Ranch. Harlan dove into the culture at the Ranch as his subconscious slowly chipped away at his preconceived notions about the world.
“I don’t think it was a totally conscious decision,” he said. “At that age, there is a lot of reacting to life versus proactively engaging it.”
However, once Harlan left the Ranch and returned home almost a year later, the Ranch’s impact on his life became very evident. Harlan moved in with a friend during his senior year of high school, moving to a different school in a bigger city and separating himself from the negative influences in his old neighborhood. He sought out the same diverse company he had found at the Ranch, making new friends that were kinder and didn’t go looking for trouble.
“The biggest thing I got from the Ranch was perspective. Perspective on the privilege that I had,” Harlan said. “It kind of hit the reset button for me when I got back. It planted the seed for me to grow up and take an active role in making sure that I take care of myself.”
Along with perspective, Harlan also left the Ranch with a strong work ethic. He worked at the Office of the President while he was a Rancher, cleaning offices and helping out in the warehouse during auctions. He also worked at the farm, learning how to break a heifer and take care of the animals. Because of this experience at the Ranch, Harlan prioritized getting a job when he returned home and saved up money for a car.
As an adult, Harlan is still no stranger to hard work. He started at the bottom of the television industry, traveled all over the country and even spent a year in Thailand as a freelance photographer. Slowly but surely he worked his way up to his current job as a photojournalist for CNN out of Washington, D.C.
“It’s just work, hard work,” he said. “If you put your mind to it and focus and work hard, with the opportunities that the Ranch gives you, you can have a normal life, you can have a family. You can succeed.”
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Zack and his brother Zane’s passion for basketball is known around the Ranch. Even before they arrived, the fire was lit.
“My mom introduced it to me,” Zack said.
She showed them the game and got them interested in learning to play. From that moment on, the boys were unstoppable.
While living at the Youth Ranches, Zack and Zane got the opportunity to play with the local Junior League Division Boys Ranch basketball team.During the 2019-2020 season, they helped the Ranch win its first championship. Part of that success was attributed to the brothers stepping into leadership roles on their team.
In the 2020-2021 season, Zack and Zane decided to try something new. They had played on the Boys Ranch team for two years, and it was time to move to the next level. They tried out and made the Suwannee Middle School basketball team.
“I knew kids there, so I already had a connection with the teammates and the coach,” Zane explained.
Even though there were a few familiar faces on the SMS team, over the course of the season, the team grew closer as friends.
“On and off the court, we just hang out and have the same interests,” Zane said.
This dynamic between players has produced an exciting experience.
“A lot of it is about chemistry; you know what the person is going to do, so you can all work as a team,” Zack said.
Anticipating each other’s moves is important, but building trust is what really makes the team a success.
“You have to trust your teammates. That’s a big thing,” Zane said. “If they need to talk to me about anything, they can trust me. I’ll be there for them.”
Zack echoed his brother, explaining how a team is there for each other, on and off the court.
“We help each other through emotional times, and we correct each other,” Zack said.
When the team respects one another, it allows leaders to step up and make the team better. Toward the end of a frustrating game, Zane saw an opportunity to correct and encourage his team. By halftime, they were down by 19 points, and Zane stood in front of all the boys and tried to explain what he saw.
“I saw what was wrong,” Zane said. “So I had to tell them and we fixed it as a group.”
The team listened to him, so he followed that up with a pep talk to get everyone pumped for the next quarter. The team went on to catch up and win the game by one point. Another aspect of playing with the SMS team that both boys enjoy is the ability to travel to different games. While the Boys Ranch team gave them the opportunity to learn how to work as a team, it’s the school team that packs up the bus and gives them the opportunity to meet and play basketball with kids from other schools around the state.
Basketball is important to them, so Zack and Zane take their studies seriously. They have to keep their grades up in order to continue playing. Both boys are holding their spots on the A/B honor roll. Zack’s favorite subject is math, and Zane likes math and science, particularly biology. Anyone who plays with them know that Zack and Zane will have their back. Both boys are quick to defend their friends and their team.
“If you’re my friend, I will be there for you,” Zane explained. His brother echoed this sentiment. “I have a lot of sympathy for people. I want them to know they can talk to me,” Zack said.
This compassion is part of the leadership skills they picked up while living at the Ranch. They understand the importance of being there for each other and for the team.
“We have fun off and on the court,” Zane said. “And when it’s time to work, we work and we don’t play around.”
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Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Receives Lifesaving Equipment Grant Award from Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation
Boys Ranch, Florida – The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches is better equipped to keep all community members safe thanks to a grant from Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. The $6,641.80 grant will be used to purchase four Powerheart G5 automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and accessories, fulfilling a critical need within the non-profit agency.
“Our goal at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches is to provide for needy and underprivileged youth from all over the state,” said Youth Ranches President Bill Frye. “At our summer camp programs, this includes having well-trained staff and proper equipment ready for any situation. This grant will help us continue to meet this goal at Camp Sorensen.”
The Powerheart G5 AEDs will be used to equip Camp Sorensen, the summer camp donated to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches by Robin and Tabitha Sorensen. This equipment will help to better serve the youth and staff at the newly launched program.
The grant was one of 102 Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation awarded to public safety organizations across the country during the most recent grant application period. The 102 grants total more than $2.1 million.
To donate and learn more about Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, visit FirehouseSubsFoundation.org.
ABOUT FIREHOUSE SUBS PUBLIC SAFETY FOUNDATION
In 2005, the Firehouse Subs Founders established the 501(c)(3), non-profit Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. The charity provides funding resources, lifesaving equipment, prevention education, training and disaster relief support to first responders and public safety organizations. Since inception, Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has granted more than $53 million to hometown heroes in 49 states and Puerto Rico.
Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation is honored to be listed as a four-star nonprofit organization by Charity Navigator. Their highest designation. Grant allocations are made possible thanks to the overwhelming support of Firehouse Subs restaurants and generous donors. More than 70% of the funds raised for the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation come from the generosity of Firehouse Subs guests and the restaurant brand. Please consider supporting a Firehouse Subs restaurant near you.
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Since graduating high school last spring, Imyni has been busy adjusting to her new life in the Polk Sheriff’s Charities Scholarship House. She lived at both the Boys Ranch and the Youth Villa before graduating, and her face is familiar to everyone on campus.
“Everyone knows who Imyni is,” she joked.
Not only does the Youth Ranches family know her, they’ve had the privilege of watching her develop into an independent, determined young woman. When Imyni arrived at the Ranches, she wasn’t used to the structured lifestyle that awaited her in a cottage. At home, she was often left to her own devices and as a result she continuously skipped school and fell behind.
“After a while, I realized if I’m going to be here, it’s better than being home. Now I do everything by the book and it all came together,” she said.
While at the Youth Ranches, Imyni was able to catch up and get on track in school. After graduating high school, she moved into the Scholarship House. Part of the agreement for students in the Scholarship House is that they have to maintain a part- or full-time job and attend classes toward a degree or certification. This helps instill a sense of independence and helps them
transition into adult life.
“When I first moved over here,” Imyni remembered, “I was still doing things that we do in the cottage. I’d be in my room by 9. Then after a while, I decided maybe I can try to do things different.”
Now Imyni spends a good bit of her time in the living room of the Scholarship House, working on homework while sitting on the couch or spending time with the other students in the house. While some students struggle with their newfound independence, Imyni embraced the chance to do things her own way.
She was accepted at Polk State College and began taking classes for her AA degree in August 2020. Her career options are undecided, although she knows it’s going to come down to either nursing or early childhood education. In regards to a job, Imyni already had that covered. As a Rancher, she was expected to get a job either on campus orin the community, and this is something that Imyni took very seriously.
“I’ve been working at my current job since I was in 11th grade,” Imyni said. “I’ve been a manager since December of 2019.”
At the beginning, Imyni worked as a cashier and tried to keep her head down and keep up. Then an opportunity presented itself for her to learn how to do different jobs, and she taught herself the necessary skills to continue moving up.
“I’m a visual learner; once I see something, I know how to do it,” she said. “So my boss told me ‘If you can show me that you can show initiative, I want to make you the next manager.’ So I basically just took things into my own hands.”
Since taking online courses with Polk State, Imyni saw the opportunity to work more hours, so she applied and was hired at a second job. She expertly juggles online classes, two jobs, and her life at the Scholarship House. Her mindset centers around a piece of advice she got early on: Don’t look back.
“I can tend to fall on my past. But you can’t worry about the past, it’s only about the future now. So I can move forward and plan ahead.”
While she knows she has the support of the Residential Life Coaches and other students in the Scholarship House, Imyni always makes it a point to try and figure out new things on her own.
“I always try to do things myself; I’ve been like that since I came to the Ranch,” she said. “I earn my own money, got my own car. I don’t like to half-do anything.”
Her determination is evident in everything she does, from her schoolwork to her job. While living at the Scholarship House, Imyni is ready to do everything she can to stay on the path toward a successful future.