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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Director of Development Phone: (386) 842-5501
Cell: (386) 688-0054
Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Brings Golf Activities to the Youth Living On Campus
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL – The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches has created a corporate partnership
with Professional Golf Association member Tom Shea and the Bettie Vinny Fore the Kids organization
to bring the game of golf to youth at the Ranches. “Life Skills Through Golf” is the motto of
Bettie Vinny Fore The Kids organization. With over 30 years of experience in the golf industry as a
teacher and coach, Tom will now work with the Youth Ranches through this organization as a mentor
and volunteer PGA Golf Coach.
The first event will be the Golf Balls Fore Kids drive to gather donations of new and used golf
balls for resale to supplement the planned life enrichment activities. Tom will also implement a
caddie/mentor program, matching youth with qualified mentors to help develop the skills they need
to pursue a career. Various golf events such as parent/child golf tournaments will be utilized to
partner youth with mentors.
This collaboration will include a partnership with the Tarpon Woods Golf Club, owned by the Jan
Stephenson’s Crossroads Foundation, to facilitate a brand new golf course STEM program with the
Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). This is part of their First Green
initiative to show youth the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) it takes to operate
all facets of a golf course.
Tom is excited to partner with the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. He began the Bettie Vinny Fore
the Kids non-profit in honor of his parents, who adopted him out of the foster care system when he
was a child. Tom credits his parents with saving his life by making him a part of the Shea family.
The mission of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches is to prevent delinquency and develop lawful,
resilient and productive citizens through a broad range of services. This year, the Youth Ranches
will serve over 4,000 boys and girls.
This charitable, nonprofit organization was founded by the Florida Sheriffs Association in 1957 and
operates three residential care campuses along with three summer camps. Additionally, it provides
community-based services to as many of Florida’s neglected, troubled children as funds will permit.
Voluntary contributions are the primary source of funding, especially thoughtful gifts made through
special bequests in wills and trusts.
The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, Inc. is nationally accredited by the Council on Accreditation
of Services for Families and Children, Inc. and the American Camp Association. If you would like
more information about the Youth Ranches please contact us at 1-800- 765-3797.
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Every year, it's a tradition at the Youth Ranches to recognize and honor the achievements of our young men and women at our annual awards banquets. It's exciting to see our youth receive awards and recognition for areas where they have made great progress and demonstrated excellence. The following students recently received awards: Jeremiah, Taylor, Shia, Ashton and Keenan.
Jeremiah recently received our Program Director’s Award, the highest honor a Rancher can receive. It goes to a young man or woman who has shown maturity, growth, respect and improvement in all areas of life. Jeremiah has shown all of these traits over the last year and we are excited to celebrate his achievement with him!
Taylor recently received our Best Character Award, which takes a lot to earn. Our staff look for Ranchers who show integrity, patience and mindfulness in all aspects of their lives. It can be a tough decision, as we watch so many youth grow and mature during their time with us.
Taylor also recently won the Academic Award, given to the Rancher with the highest GPA at the end of the school year. Congratulations to Taylor for her hard work in earning these two awards!
The Leadership Award is about being a leader in every aspect of life—in the cottage, in the classroom and in the community. Shia has always been like a big brother to the Ranchers in his cottage and has also built strong relationships with his teachers and in his workplace. We are proud to see the growth in this young man!
The Personal Growth Award is often a tough decision. Positive growth is the goal of every youth on our campuses, and they work hard through the year to reach that goal. However, sometimes a Rancher stands out as having made the extra effort to better themselves, their attitude, and their relationships with others. Congratulations to Ashton for earning this year’s Personal Growth Award!
The Jim Strayer Leadership Award is unique to the Boys Ranch campus. Jim Strayer was a pioneer of Youth Ranch history; he helped mold and develop our residential care program to actively help youth prepare for life after the Ranch. This award goes to a Rancher that lifts up the people around them and leads by example. We were proud to present this award to Keenan this year!
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When new kids arrive at the Ranch, sometimes it can take a little while for them to adjust. They’re in a new home with new people, and our program runs on a steady routine. If they come from tough environments, they’re even more on guard, waiting to see what life will be like here.
Antonio is from a big family—seven kids across a spectrum of ages. He’s used to a little bit of chaos. When he arrived at the Ranch, it didn’t take him long to adjust. On top of that ring of familiarity, it was also summer break. The 2021 school year hadn’t started yet, so the everyday routine in the cottage was a little more relaxed.
No school was just fine with Antonio. He remembers the moment in middle school when school stopped being a priority.
“I just stopped caring,” Antonio remembers. “I stopped doing my work and started failing.”
When his grades plummeted, the one class he cared about—band—was no longer an option. In high school, everything seemed to escalate. Not doing assignments or keeping up with homework turned into skipping school and other bad habits. Antonio’s parents were terrified that his disrespect towards his family would rub off on his siblings.
Just before Antonio came to the Ranch, he received an acoustic guitar, something he had always dreamed of. He faithfully made his way through guitar lessons, finally showing commitment to something. This attention and focus was promising, but not enough to improve his behavior or his grades.
At the Ranch, Antonio adapted quickly. He made friends with his cottage mates and passed the summer learning what life at the Ranch would look like. It wasn’t until school began in the fall that reality hit.
“I had to start trying—I mean really try—to do my schoolwork. I was supposed to fail ninth grade,” Antonio said. “But when I got here, I passed because they let you make up classes.”
The customized curriculum at Donald Ralph Cooke School helped put Antonio back on track. His teachers made sure that Antonio had the tools he needed to improve.
“It’s a smaller learning environment, so it’s easier to stay focused,” he said. “You get more one-on-one time with people that can help you.”
At the Ranch, school is just one aspect of life. Our four pillars—work, study, play and pray—help our boys and girls develop the tools they need to be successful when they return home.
Antonio soon found himself working at the Chapel on campus, helping our Chaplain keep the building clean and run the chapel service. Spending time at Chapel has opened the door for something Antonio truly loves: music. Not only was he able to continue learning how to play the guitar, but he also got the chance to try out other instruments.
“I love instruments. I play the piano, guitar, and I’m learning how to play the electric guitar and acoustic bass.”
Over the last few months, his teachers and cottage parents have seen a change in Antonio. He realized that all of his goals in life are achievable; he just has to work for them.
“I want to go into the Navy,” he said.
“My mother’s father was in the military, and once they started talking about that, it kind of caught my eye. It feels like the right thing to do.”
The local high school has a JROTC program, and Antonio was immediately interested. With his grades steadily improving, joining the program became a real possibility.
“I got really lucky because it’s Navy JROTC,” Antonio said. “So as soon as I start bringing up my grades, they’re going to talk about getting me into the program.”
Antonio has worked hard to focus on school, study for his learner’s permit, and earn the chance to apply for a job in town. But if you ask him how long he’s actually been at the Ranch, he just shrugs his shoulders.
“I stopped counting,” he said simply. “I’m not counting down the days until I have to leave. I’m more than likely going to need help for a while. I’m trying to stay here until I graduate.”
Antonio sees how much everyone wants him to succeed, and now he knows he’s capable of it. His cottage parents, his teachers, the Chaplain—everyone has the same goal: to help our kids get back on track.
“The staff here tells you about their experiences when they were young and what they did and how it’s similar to us,” Antonio said. “So they can help set us on the right path. They’re showing us what we need to do in order to reach our goals.”
Antonio knows he’s gotten lucky. This chance he has at the Ranch is something he plans to develop into a successful future.
“I want to prove to my family that I’m sorry and I’m trying to change.”
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One of the major tenets of our program is that we operate under a family model. Our cottages are run by a mom and pop and the youth in the cottage have a structured, dependable daily schedule. They get up, eat breakfast and go to school. When they get home, they do their chores, work on homework and eat dinner as a family.
By using this traditional family structure, our programs can keep siblings together under one roof. Siblings like Maddie and Jeremiah, who needed a safe place to grow up. They’ve been at the Ranch for five years, and the steady routine is now familiar.
Jeremiah, 14, is all about sports. His favorite is soccer, and he is excited about joining the team at his school this upcoming year.
“Everybody’s encouraging me to,” he said, smiling. “So this year I will.”
Before he came to the Ranch, Jeremiah wasn’t a fan of school and had started to fall behind. Now, his cottage parents and other staff members have found a customized curriculum that encourages Jeremiah to study and learn everything he can.
His sister, 11-year-old Maddie, is athletic like her brother. She recently discovered softball and joined a local team with the other girls in her cottage. A new passion of hers is watching wrestling. Her grandparents are big wrestling fans, and Maddie has plastered her walls with posters of her favorite wrestlers.
“My favorite is John Cena, and my other favorite is Roman Reigns,” she said. “He calls himself the Big Dog.” A grin stretched across her face as she talked about watching wrestling on Friday nights with her grandparents.
Maddie has a lot of love for her family and is extremely grateful to be able to grow up in the same home as her brother. They have been through a lot together, and they watch out for one another. When they arrived at the Ranch, these two siblings had a lot to learn about what life was like in a home. Their cottage parents showed patience and love, and Jeremiah and Maddie were quick to learn.
One of the most important lessons that Jeremiah has carried with him from his cottage parents is the suggestion to “try new things.”
“Ever since I decided to try new things, it was awesome,” Jeremiah said. He’s had the opportunity to do lots of new things at the Ranch, including going to summer camp, trying out for sports and learning to paddleboard.
Maddie has also branched out and discovered a passion for art. She loves to draw and paint, and has participated in the Young Artists program through the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg.
When not playing outside, drawing, or doing homework, Maddie and Jeremiah do their part to help keep their cottage running smooth. Part of their daily routine involves doing a chore around the house.
This helps them learn responsibility and how to take pride in a job. Maddie remembers when her cottage parents first taught her how to load a dishwasher, and now it’s easy. Jeremiah has recently been helping in the kitchen as well.
“I take my turn doing kitchen chores,” he said. “I make sure things that aren’t supposed to be out are put away.”
While some of these tasks and discoveries may seem simple, for some of our youth, it’s a whole new experience. Because of your generosity, boys and girls like Maddie and Jeremiah are able to know what it’s like to grow up in a traditional home with a family that loves them. Every day is a chance to “try new things” without worrying about basic necessities. They just
get to be kids.
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At the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, one of the most exciting parts about working with the youth in our care is seeing the tremendous growth that can happen. When boys and girls are introduced to the safe, nurturing environment at the Ranch, it’s often the first time in a long time they can breathe easy.
Bella came to the Ranch already on the defensive. Past experiences had left her suspicious and untrusting of adults. She was adamant that any respect she offered to the people in her life had to be earned.
“When I first got here, I was not a nice person,” Bella remembers. “But my cottage parents were nice people. I respected them, so there was no point in having an attitude anymore.”
After living at the Youth Ranches for over a year, Bella graduated high school and moved into the Polk Sheriff’s Charities Scholarship House. This environment is designed to help youth transition into adulthood while they pursue higher education and find a job. The Scholarship House is similar to the cottage environment Bella came to know at the Ranch, but with much more freedom, and with it, more responsibility.
One big change is the freedom to adopt a pet—if the student can prove that they can take care of it. Bella has two aquariums set up in her bedroom with goldfish, catfish and minnows she caught in the lake. There is also a terrarium with a bearded dragon she has named “Chiefy.”
Her bearded dragon was an unexpected addition; another student couldn’t continue taking care of him, and Bella became his owner. She didn’t take this lightly. Chiefy has become a big part of her life.
She makes sure his tank is clean, he has access to a heat lamp and treats him to his favorite snack: strawberries. Taking on these pets requires a lot of Bella’s time, but she is making sure she creates a good home for them.
Over the last year, Bella has learned a lot about herself. Her passion for fixing and riding her bike has expanded to include maintaining the van that the Scholarship House uses to transport some of the students. Bella has taken it upon herself to keep this van looking like new.
“I can tell you every single thing about that van,” Bella said. “I’ve read the manual twice.”
When she pops open the hood, she expertly points out the location of different fluids and deftly pulls out the dipstick to check the oil level. Everything about the van is familiar to her, and she takes pride in knowing that it meets her standard of excellence.
Before the van, there was the bike. When Bella was a teenager, a Sheriff’s Deputy had seen the old bike she was riding. It was all but falling apart, so he used his own money to buy her a brand-new one.
“I haven’t seen him since,” Bella said. “I haven’t seen him since,” Bella said. “But when I needed a bike, he gave me this one brand-new. It was probably the most important thing I had.”
She customizes every inch of it, making it her own. She’s added a scanning strobe light and Bluetooth speaker to the front and attached a waterproof storage box to the top tube of the frame.
Like the van, she regularly goes over every part of the bike to make sure it’s in top condition.
When she’s not riding her bike or detailing the van, Bella likes to go fishing. She loves to catch the big tilapia running wild in the lake. Every time she pulls one flipping and flopping onto the dock, she scoops it up, kisses it, and reminds it to “Grow big, okay?” before tossing it back into the water.
Since her skills with fixing bikes and learning about van engines have become apparent, Bella has decided to pursue a mechanics certification at a local technical college. She is excited to begin this new phase in her life, and hopes to get a job at a local Ford dealership when she graduates.
While living at the Scholarship House, she is expected to attend school and keep a steady job. This is all a new phase of life for Bella, but her passion and fierce work ethic as well as the support of the staff at the Scholarship House will help her on her journey. This is a unique program that is helping our youth learn valuable independent living skills. It’s because of your support that a young adult like Bella will begin her life with the tools she needs to be successful!