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Making a postive impact Alexis uses her career to give back.
From a young age, Alexis always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t until the Youth Ranches turned her life around that she understood why.
Alexis came to the Youth Ranch at Safety Harbor in 2010. Her mother had remarried and Alexis and her stepfather never saw eye to eye, which had caused a lot of family problems. The Youth Ranches seemed like her last resort, but what Alexis really found was the support to grow as a person and follow her dreams.
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve always sort of known that I wanted to be a teacher,” Alexis said of her blossoming career. “My time at the Youth Ranches helped me to solidify that decision.” She now teaches the fifth grade in central Florida and sees a lot of herself in her students. “I teach in an area with a lot of lower-income families and a lot of kids who don’t have the best lives at home,” Alexis said. “Being at the Youth Ranch taught me how important it is for children to have good role models. A lot of them don’t have good family support, so I’m their cheerleader. That’s the main reason I do what I do.”
Alexis confesses there were times at the Ranch when she didn’t understand the point or purpose of the skills and lessons being taught in the cottage. “As a teenager, I never understood why it was so important that we all had to gather together at night for daily skill lessons, or even the cottage parents asking each child in the cottage how their day was,” she said with a laugh. “I get it now. I can’t tell you how many times in my daily life as an adult I have used those lessons we were taught by Mom and Pop. I never realized how much that helped me develop my social skills and interactions, which are now a key part of my job.”
She is quick to add that it wasn’t only the support and skills she received from the Youth Ranches that shaped her life; she got the chance to follow her dreams and she hasn’t slowed down. “I was so fortunate to be a part of the Youth Ranches Scholarship Program. Without that, I doubt I would have even been able to go to college at all, let alone have so many options available to me.” Alexis received her bachelor’s degree from Florida Southern and is now planning to continue her education and pursue her master’s degree in educational leadership so one day, she will be able to work in school administration. “I want to make a difference,” Alexis said. “As my long-term goal, I see myself as vice principal of a school.”
For Alexis, above and beyond everything the Youth Ranches has given her and taught her, what it really gave her was a family. “The Youth Ranch, that’s my family,” she said with pride. “They are as much of a family as you can be without being related. When I get in a tough spot or just need someone to talk to, I know they are there. Still to this day, I have them to help guide me. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without the Youth Ranches.”
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Paving the way for great things Angel sets his sights on a bright future.
Beyond being excited about graduation, like any other young man his age, this senior at the Boys Ranch in Live Oak is paving the way for amazing things in his future. It is hard not to be just as excited about that as he is.
Not only will Angel be graduating from high school in May — a few short weeks after he walks the stage and collects his high school diploma, he will be taking a written exam and performing a skills assessment to obtain his certification as a nursing assistant. For Angel, earning his Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) status is just the first step to reaching his dreams of being a sports medicine doctor.
Angel’s past could not have been more different from the future he has before him. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he divided his time between his mother and father. He would spend time in Puerto Rico with his mother and then come to Florida to be with his father. After his mother passed away, Angel came to live permanently in Florida and trouble began to brew. When he was in the ninth grade, this came to its boiling point and resulted in a conversation with a judge. This compassionate man directed Angel's family to the Boys Ranch.
When you speak to Angel now, it’s hard to believe he was ever anything other than an intelligent, respectful and charismatic teenager, but he credits much of that to what he learned at the Boys Ranch. “It’s hard to explain,” Angel said, “but the Boys Ranch has taught me to be an overall better person. Every part of me, everything they do, adds up. Every piece of it goes into making me better. From teaching me how to be respectful and earn respect from others to teaching me about time management, I’m a better person because of it.”
After three and a half years at the Boys Ranch, Angel is preparing for a new journey. He excitedly shared that he had just received confirmation that he had been accepted into the Youth Ranches Scholarship Program, which will help him pay for college and living expenses after he leaves the Ranch.
The scholarship program is not a free ride for our youth. Angel is ready to take the next step in learning to juggle the real world challenges of maintaining his grades while working and becoming a productive adult. “In the fall, I will be starting at Santa Fe College and from there, I will transfer to the University of Florida,” he said.
Angel, who played football for the Suwannee County Bulldogs, hopes to one day work for a large sports organization. His dream is an opportunity to work with the NFL or Major League Baseball, combining his love of sports and the medical field.
Angel is off to a great start! In preparation for his CNA license, he has learned a lot about nutrition, taking vital signs, patient care and administering medications. This background has provided him with a wealth of knowledge and a solid foundation to continue his education in medicine. Angel will gladly tell you that he owes it all to the Youth Ranches, “It is home.”
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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.