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If you had told Catherine Koclanes that one day she would become a businesswoman working in Chicago, it’s unlikely she would have believed you. Born into a family of six children, she tried to run away from home when she was 14.
That’s when Catherine found out about the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. She was intrigued by the program, especially when she learned the Youth Ranches offered college scholarships. She dreamed of going to college one day, but with little support at home, she didn’t see a path to making that happen.
When Catherine got to the Youth Ranch in Safety Harbor in 2005, she discovered a much different environment than her home life. As she describes it, there were rules. There was structure, with regular chores and daily homework after school. It wasn’t always easy.
“It was definitely really difficult at first,” Catherine said. “But I loved it. The ranch’s structure, having a mom and pop with other kids, it seemed more like a home.”
Day by day, Catherine’s life started to change. She brought her GPA up to a 3.8, got a part-time job at Einstein Bagels and began to love school. She formed an inseparable bond with her cottage mom and dad, Mr. Ron and Mrs. Linda, who hosted a going-away party for her this year before she moved to Chicago.
“I was blessed to have amazing cottage parents,” she said. “They’ve always been there for me. They raised me through the toughest times. When I get married, Mr. Ron will walk me down the aisle."
After high school, Catherine attended Stetson University on a full scholarship from the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Education Foundation. She graduated in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in business administration. Although several years had passed since her time in Safety Harbor, the Youth Ranches continued to play a big role in her life. She credits one of her mentors, Youth Ranches President Bill Frye, with guiding her through the college years, describing him as a “huge support.”
“I was blessed to watch over the years as a little shy, reserved young girl blossomed into a young lady full of ambition and self-confidence,” said Youth Ranches President Bill Frye. “I am so proud of Cathy as she overcame so much, and while she struggled at times, she never became cynical. I can also say that she brings joy to those who have the opportunity to spend even a few minutes in conversation with her.”
Today, Catherine lives in Chicago and works as a commercial insurance broker for Founders Professional, a national wholesale insurance brokerage.
When she reflects back on her time at the Youth Ranch, she says there are so many lessons she learned that helped her get where she is now. She encourages young women in the program today to stick with it, even when times are hard.
“You can go places that you’d never be able to go without the ranch,” she said. “I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. The Youth Ranches gave me the mindset that I can do anything.”
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October 6-8 - Join us as we celebrate 60 years of Mending Lives and Healing Hearts at this year's 60th Anniversary Boys Ranch Open House and Horse Show.
For camping, vendor, and program information contact Joanne Thomas at (386) 842-5501.
Registration for camping at the 60th Anniversary Boys Ranch Open House and Horse Show includes one parking pass for one vehicle. Additional vehicle passes cost $10.
Additional campsites are being made available. Sites can be purchased at the registration tent for $10 per night, payable in cash only.
For an event flyer, click here.
For a one-page schedule of events, click here.
For the event program, click here.
To make reservations camping and trail rides, click here.
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ServiceMaster 24 Hour of Tampa, FL, a client of RestorationMaster, held their first annual P&C on the Sea Fishing Charter event and successfully raised money for the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches organization.
To read more click here.
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Blink and you’ll miss him! Jerrel, the lightning-fast, wise-beyond-his-years seventh grader at our Safety Harbor campus, is always active. Whether he is on his bike or running around the campus, Jerrel is always moving. When he joined the track team, he really began to shine.
“I was always running around,” Jerrel said in starting his story. “One of my friends at the Ranch said jokingly that I should try out for the track team.” He thought it might be something fun to do, but hadn’t expected to be the third-fastest out of all of the kids who tried out. “I would always try to run faster than my older brother, so I guess I’ve always been a little competitive.”
Two years later with numerous first- and second-place finishes under his belt, Jerrel is something of a track star, but he is humble about it all, reiterating that he just loves to run. To be on the track team, he has to maintain a pretty impressive GPA in all of his classes. His favorite subject is science. “I love that there is a method to it. I like seeing one thing be able to change into another.”
It’s no surprise that Jerrel is a fan of transformation. Since he came to the Youth Ranches, he has witnessed an incredible change in himself. “I was troubled,” Jerrel admits. “I was stealing, fighting. I was getting into a lot trouble.” He was at another children's home before he was given the opportunity to come to the Youth Ranch. “I was curious about the Youth Ranch, but I mostly wanted to come because I knew I would be safe,” Jerrel said. “My siblings were here already, so I knew I was coming to a place where I would be safe and protected.”
While he may have only been looking for a safe place to call home, Jerrel got so much more.
“It’s been amazing to see how much I can change even with just the power of words,” Jerrel said of his new attitude toward life since he came to the Youth Ranch more than three years ago. Work, Study, Play and Pray have been a daily part of his life at the Ranch and have definitely made an impact on this awesome young man. “The Ranch has taught me to grow. It is so great to look back at where I came from to where I am now and who I know I can be.” He still has a few years in school before he has to make any decisions about a career, but right now, he is looking at law enforcement — maybe even something like a SWAT team.
Jerrel plans to continue on the track team, but being as active as he is, he is looking forward to trying some new sports in the future as well. “I think I’ll definitely try out for football once I’m in high school and maybe even something like rugby,” he says with a smile. He does know one thing for sure, though: He will always keep running. “I like to put on my music and just go run to clear my head.” He adds, “It’s a time where I can just be with my thoughts.”
As fast as Jerrel runs, he still likes to slow down every now and then, and look at his journey and the transformation he has already made in his young life. “This is a great place to be,” Jerrel said. “I’ve changed so much and I know that I am safe. I am so grateful to get to be here.”