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The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches has embarked on a $3.7 million campaign to renovate and open Camp Sorensen in Nassau County in order to provide expanded youth camping programs in Northeast Florida. The camp will be located on approximately 130 acres, on the St. Mary's River west of Hilliard, Florida.
The campaign was launched when Firehouse Subs Co-Founder, Robin Sorensen and his wife Tabitha, made an anchor gift to purchase, renovate and open Camp Sorensen. The Sorensen's funded the Youth Ranches $900,000 purchase of the former First Baptist Church Jacksonville Hilliard Retreat Center. The couple has a big heart when it comes to kids and are large donors of several children-focused charities in Northeast Florida
Camp Sorensen will provide camping services for deserving children from around the state each year. Our summer camping programs teach boys and girls team building activities while having fun with volunteer deputies. Camp activities include high ropes, challenge course, swimming, canoeing, archery and a host of traditional camp activities.
During the remainder of the year, camp will offer programming related to leadership, diversity, athletics and team-building through community partnerships.
Youth Ranches President Bill Frye stated, “Our camping programs are full every year with a generous waiting list. This is a great opportunity to serve more boys and girls. We are grateful for this generous gift and an opportunity to expand our services in Northeast Florida.”
The campaign is structured so that donors can choose particular areas of interest to support with possible naming and recognition opportunities. “The Youth Ranches is a donor-funded organization and relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations, foundations and companies to fund our programs. We have reached 37% of the campaign goal but more is needed to complete the project,” shares Frye.
For a complete informational packet about this project or if you wish to donate, please call Maria Knapp at (386) 842-5501.
If you wish to donate to the Camp Sorensen campaign online, please visit here.
607 Retreat Acres Rd
PO Box 70
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A common remark Ranchers will make about their first impression of the Youth Ranches is the structure. Our programs are designed so that boys and girls develop a sense of responsibility, familiarity and safety. Ranchers wake up in a safe home and know what is expected of them. They know their Mom and Pop are going to help them get ready for school, they will have something to eat for breakfast, and when they get home in the afternoon there will be chores, homework, and family dinner.
The Ranchers who recognize that this lifestyle is beneficial to their personal growth tend to seek the same type of structure outside of the Ranch. Ari and Beonca both found familiarity in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program at their high school.
“I have a community at the Ranch, but I never really had that community at school before joining JROTC,” Ari said.
Beonca joined JROTC for the same reason many students do: She wanted to enlist in the Navy after graduating high school. While in the program, she discovered that the values and principles instilled in recruits were helping her become a better leader and a better person.
“It’s not all about doing it so that it’ll show up when I do enlist,” Beonca said. “It’s more about bettering myself as a citizen, developing leadership skills, having self confidence, and having self-discipline.”
Before coming to the Ranch, Beonca’s life was devoid of any form of structure. “It was probably one of the worst environments possible because of my school and my area,” she said. “I was failing.”
Life at the Ranch and in JROTC gave Beonca exactly what she wanted: an opportunity to better herself. “I strive for perfection in pretty much everything I do. I just want to know that I’ve done my best.”
Ari’s growth since living at the Ranch followed a similar path to Beonca’s. As a young teenager, lack of structure and immaturity fed his aimlessness and led him into trouble.
“I wasn’t really that mature,” Ari said. “I messed around, snuck out of school every so often.” A lifelong love of the ocean and his success at the Ranch prompted him to enroll in the Naval JROTC program. “I’m held to a higher standard now so I don’t risk that stuff anymore.” Even though he began as a junior, Ari took on more classes and pushed himself to catch up.
Part of the JROTC program is learning and implementing the principles of leadership. These guidelines have resonated with both Ari and Beonca, carrying over into their everyday lives at the Ranch. They stand out as leaders in their cottages.
“You have to set the example,” Ari said. “If you’re going to be a higher rank, you have to show maturity so the younger kids have someone to look up to.”
Ari takes time to talk with other youth in his cottage who are interested in the JROTC program. He encourages them to try and give 100 percent.
Beonca, the oldest girl in her cottage, took it upon herself to be a leader to her cottage siblings. She said, “One of our principles of leadership is ‘Know your people.’ You have to know who you’re working with and we’re working as a team in the cottage.” She prioritized listening to the other girls and using their feedback to change her own behavior.
“One really important thing I’ve shown in the cottage is positivity, boosting morale.” When something needs to be done, Beonca steps up and encourages her family to work together and push through. Motivation to better oneself as a teenager is a rare find. It takes self-awareness, determination, and maturity.
Ari and Beonca have shown great progress both at the Ranch and in the JROTC program. They have become leaders in their cottages and worked to grow as individuals. Along the way, they found a family they can rely on. “That’s why I love being here at the Ranch,” Beonca said. “We’re a family. I love the family environment and feeling like a family.”
Her JROTC unit feels like being at the Ranch. “They make me feel like I matter to the unit.”
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At the end of the day, it’s just coffee.” Callie says these words of wisdom with a noncommittal shrug. Her job at Starbucks has become an important part of her life, but one major takeaway is the understanding that she can’t let it take over.
“I really like my job,” Callie said. “I love the people that I work with. But at the end of the day I have to remember, I have priorities. I can’t let work overshadow what I’m doing.”
Balancing her time is a matter of accountability. “Being accountable and doing things that advance my future, that’s important to me. School is really important because I want to be a physical therapist. So if I’m off work one day, I’ll do homework and study and work really hard. I get my work schedule three weeks in advance, so I keep it straight.”
As a Rancher, balancing work and school is familiar to Callie. While living at the Boys Ranch, she began working at the on-site clinic almost as soon as she arrived.
“It really did teach me a lot,” she said, “and I liked doing it. I like working. It’s always been fun to me.”
The Work Program at the Youth Ranches is designed to instill a strong work ethic, teach real-world skills, and familiarize boys and girls with the job application process.
When Callie applied to Starbucks, her experience at the Boys Ranch made the whole process less daunting.
However, there are some very clear differences with an on-campus job and a real-world job.
“It was very flexible working at the Ranch. I learned about being accountable for what you do and don’t do and what you fail at. Now I’ve got to actually be responsible and accountable for every little thing I do. It’s a lot different.” The biggest change is how many people Callie interacts with on a daily basis. Customer service is not the easiest aspect of the food industry
to navigate, but Callie has an advantage.
“Working at the Ranch taught me a lot about manners and how to talk to adults. People can be really mean, but you have to remember, it’s just coffee. If someone is going to get mad about coffee, that’s not your problem.”
An attitude like that is helpful during more stressful times. “At peak times and happy hours, you’re getting surrounded by people. That’s when everyone just comes in like a rush.” Callie learned quickly that busy hours are easier to manage when you enjoy what you do. Her favorite station to work at is the coffee bar, where she is responsible for actually creating the orders.
“That kind of stress I can pretty much handle because I just like being able to make stuff and make different combinations. I like seeing what people drink. It’s easy to me.”
Another favorite part of the job is knowing she is not alone. Callie quickly built relationships with other young women she worked with. “I’ve definitely got a lot more friends. They’re really good people and it’s nice to be able to talk to older people.
Some of them help me with my college applications and essays and just getting things together.”
Graduating on time, moving into the Scholarship House, and going to college are Callie’s top priorities. “School is really important. I want to graduate and start my life.” The Scholarship House helps young adults ease into adult life while attending college and working.
“At the Scholarship House, I’m going to have to go to school and I’m going to have to work. It teaches me now when I can actually fail and be able to get back up.” Callie knows that if
things become tough to manage, she has a support system to help her work through those challenges.
“They are for me and they’re this foundation.” Even as a teenager, Callie is ready to face the future with confidence. “The Ranch gave me the skills to do it, so now I have to do what I can with what I’ve learned.”
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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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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)