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COVID-19 Update from Youth Ranches President Bill Frye:
We are facing unprecedented times. In my 35 years of working with the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, I can think of no other time like the present. We have experienced multiple financial crises, the last one taking place in 2008-2009. On each of those occasions, we took various steps to reduce the overall negative impact to our work and our mission. This will certainly be the case now, as we experience the effects of COVID-19 on our society.
First and foremost, we are taking every measure possible to protect the health and safety of the boys and girls in our programs. At our residential campuses, taking care of children is our number one priority. This includes a heavy emphasis on hand-washing, thorough cleanings and disinfecting our facilities, and daily temperature checks and assessment of symptoms among the youth in our care. All non-essential visitors are prohibited from coming on campus until a later date, and we have implemented social distancing practices to keep our youth in smaller groups in order to be safe and still allow learning on our campuses.
We have also put steps in place among our staff, starting last week, following the recommendations from the CDC. This includes suspending agency gatherings, moving to virtual meetings, allowing staff to work remotely and postponing all non-essential travel. We made the tough decision several weeks ago to cancel our open house events in Bradenton and Bartow to avoid putting our donors — many of whom are seniors — in an environment where they could be at greater risk of contracting a virus.
We know these measures can be inconvenient and challenging for all of us, but we want to make sure we are taking every precaution to keep our children, staff and supporters healthy and safe during these times — and to ensure we can continue to serve the many children and families who need the services of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. Thank you for your support! —Bill Frye
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The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches has been selected as a beneficiary of the Winn-Dixie Community Bag Program for the month of April 2020.
The program, which launched in February 2019, utilizes the sale of reusable shopping bags to facilitate community support with the goal of making a difference in the communities where shoppers live and work. The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches was selected as an April beneficiary of the program by store leadership at the Winn-Dixie located at 6902 South Florida Avenue, Lakeland, Florida. The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches will receive a $1 donation every time the $2.50 reusable Community Bag is purchased at this location during the month of April unless otherwise directed by the customer through the Giving Tag attached to the bag.
“We are honored to have been selected again by the Lakeland Winn-Dixie. We have many donors residing within the area and this is another way they can give to the children in our care,” said FSYR Director of Development Wayne Witczak. “It takes $5.00 a day to feed one of the over 100 children in our residential programs. The funds collected will help provide meals for these deserving boys and girls.”
The mission of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches is to prevent delinquency and develop lawful, resilient, and productive citizens. This year the Youth Ranches will serve over 6,000 boys and girls.
This charitable nonprofit corporation was founded by the Florida Sheriffs Association in 1957 and operates four residential child-care campuses and two youth camps. Additionally, it provides community-based programs to as many of Florida’s neglected and 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 and the American Camp Association. For more information, please visit www.youthranches.org or contact your local Sheriff’s Office. For more information on the Winn-Dixie Community Bag Program, please visit seg.bags4mycause.com.
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Florida Sheriffs Association Names Former President of Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Harry Weaver as an Honorary Sheriff
Tallahassee, Fla. (January 16, 2020) – The Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA), one of the largest and most successful state law-enforcement associations in the nation, is pleased to announce that it has named Harry Weaver as Honorary Sheriff. Mr. Weaver passed away on June 23, 2019, at his home surrounded by his family. With more than 30 years of service, Mr. Weaver retired as president of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. Mr. Weaver’s family accepted this honor Tuesday night at the FSA Winter Conference banquet in Wesley Chapel.
“Mr. Weaver brought expertise, passion and heart to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches to his more than 30-year-tenture,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “We are proud to honor his dedication to the Youth Ranches, to the sheriffs of Florida, and to thousands of children whose lives he impacted.”
Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches President Bill Frye said, “Mr. Weaver’s philosophy was if you showed a child love and respect, they would give it right back to you. I am grateful that the Florida Sheriffs Association is recognizing Mr. Weaver because it is well deserved. I believe Mr. Weaver is smiling down right now, and his family is smiling with him.”
By being such a positive force within FSA, Mr. Weaver has earned nothing short of this honorary title. To learn more about Harry Weaver, watch this tribute: https://youtu.be/7R0NEl1Wx6U
Pictured above: Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John, Kin Weaver, Gayle Weaver Crespo, and FSA President Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (Mr. Weaver’s son and daughter are in the middle)
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Celebrating Christmas in Conn Cottage
As the cottage parents began to clear some counter space in the kitchen, the residents of Conn Cottage couldn’t help but poke their heads in the doorway to see what was going on. They watched their Cottage Mom lay out bags of icing, sprinkles, and fresh baked sugar cookies. The cookies looked delicious! They were shaped like Christmas trees, stockings, snowmen, and gingerbread men.
Old and young Ranchers filed into the kitchen. Leiva, the oldest Rancher in Conn Cottage, tied on an apron and got to work. She helped Alex get a bag of green icing open and he began the work of filling in a Christmas tree shaped cookie. Arthuro followed behind him with a generous pinch of sprinkles. Several minutes later, Anna and Jason checked in to see what all the fuss was about.
They were soon equipped with bags of brightly colored icing and a cookie in need of some flair. Before coming to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, many of our boys and girls wouldn’t be able to recall ever taking the time to participate in Christmas traditions. Their home lives are often filled with neglect and unmet needs. The holiday activities we take for granted become meaningful experiences for our youth. Whether it’s decorating Christmas cookies, opening colorfully wrapped presents, or enjoying time together as a family, each new experience is a cause for celebration!
Leiva sets an example as a big sister in her cottage. She teases her “little brothers,” coaxing them out of their shells. Alex has already warmed up to her. He follows her lead and listens when she guides him on how to keep the icing on his cookie. Arthuro stays quiet, focusing on his project of applying sprinkles on top of a finished cookie. His is a hard shell to break, but Leiva doesn’t give up until he cracks a smile.
Anna takes her time with her cookie. She switches out icing colors frequently, a vision in her head of what her masterpiece will look like. Although she’s focused, she takes the time to share with Jason, passing different colors back and forth as needed. Jason is quick to laugh and quick to make a mess. He had to take more than one trip to the sink to clean smeared streaks of icing off of his hands. Mom was there to help him and hold out paper towels to dry off his hands.
It’s because of your generous giving that our Ranchers can focus on the fun aspects of Christmas. They don’t have to worry about where they’ll get their next meal, where they’ll sleep tonight, or how they’ll get to school. Because your gifts provide all of those essential things, our boys and girls can focus on other important things, like what color icing to put on their cookies.
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Ahead of the Curve
Andrea came to live at the Youth Villa after a series of hard, frustrating, and heartbreaking events in her life. A death in her family had fractured the relationships she clung to, and conflict continued to erupt at home. Her grades were low due to the stress of worrying about the adults in her life. “I was distracted,” Andrea said. “I had a lot going on.” She was drowning in negativity.
“My first impression of this place was that I had never seen anything like it,” Andrea remembered about her arrival at the Youth Villa. “You get comfortable after a while.”
Comfort is not the same as change. “When I first came in, my mindset was so negative,” she said. Andrea spent a lot of her time at the Villa focused on what had gone wrong in her life, and before long, her progress was at a standstill.
The patience of her cottage parents, a customized growth plan from the Youth Villa staff, and a change in schools gradually began to crack open her shell. She began to see her path toward success. Three years later, her 0.9 grade point average has catapulted to a 4.0. Andrea is no longer wasting her time dwelling on the negative.
“I realized I can’t worry about that all the time,” she explained. Today, she is your typical teenager— full of restless energy, quick to break into a smile, and an avid fan of all genres of music.
“My attitude is probably the biggest change since coming here,” Andrea said. “I feel like I’ve changed because I know that everything happens for a reason. I’m in a good place and I will keep going.”
Andrea’s progress is nothing short of inspiring. Catching up in school wasn’t enough for her—she’s on track to graduate in the spring of 2020 at the age of 17, a full year ahead.
“I like challenging myself,” Andrea said. “A lot of people said that my background would define me, and that wasn’t the truth. I’m proving them wrong.”
Her future goals are just as lofty as her current ones. Andrea plans on working toward her master’s degree and going into social work. This career has been at the back of Andrea’s mind long before she found her home at the Youth Villa.
“I decided I wanted to be a social worker when I was little. I was in foster care in South Carolina when I was 6 years old. Even though I was little, I still remember how my caseworker talked to me about how much she enjoyed her job and how it can change kids’ lives. It really impacted me.”
“I want to be one of those social workers who is there emotionally for the kids and enjoy what I’m doing,” Andrea said.
A typical day is filled with a loaded class schedule, chores, and family dinner with the other girls in her cottage and their cottage parents. Andrea enjoys the moments of peace where she can relax in her room. She gets comfortable on her bed and draws in a sketchbook, journals, listens to music, or reads.
“It’s my comfort zone,” Andrea said. “I love it.”
Andrea’s time at the Youth Villa has turned her life completely around. Once she made the decision that she was going to get the most out of her life, nothing could stop her.
“I’ve been through a lot, but you wouldn’t know it because of how much I’ve kept going and kept trying to do the best for myself.”
With determination like that, it makes sense that Andrea’s advice for other people in her situation would be spot on: “Don’t let what you go through define you, just learn from it. Everything you go through is a lesson in life. So don’t take the negative from it, take the positive.”
Thank you for giving Andrea the opportunity to become the smart, driven, and successful young woman she is today.