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At the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches we take pride in and work hard to honor our mission each and every day. There is no greater reward than watching one of our youth take our philosophies and exemplify and embody them beyond the Youth Ranches.
Recently, one of our students took the vision of the Youth Ranches to the actual mission field. For 17-year-old Ozzy, the opportunity to go to Haiti on a mission trip with the Journey Community Church was too powerful an experience to turn down. “The world is so much larger than his previous experiences,” Youth Ranch Safety Harbor Program Director Chuck Dietch said, explaining what a positive impact he thought the trip would have for Ozzy. “There is great misfortune in this world, but there are always opportunities to do good despite one’s circumstances.”
While in Haiti, Ozzy was a part of a team that helped work on much-needed space at House of Blessings. This is an orphanage in the city of Calebasse that is home to more than a dozen children in the mountains southeast of Port-au-Prince. Their mission is not just to care for children who have lost their parents, but to raise children to become Christian leaders who can have a big, positive impact on Haiti as adults.
The long days and hard work were tiring, but Ozzy wouldn’t change a thing. “Being over there taught me not to take things for granted,” he said. “A lot of those kids don’t even get to eat every day; some of them only once a week. Here, we get three meals a day and never think about what a big deal that is to someone else.”
Ozzy, who has a passion for service, has taken the message of his Haiti experience to heart. This past summer, he spent his days working with children at the Safety Harbor Community Recreation Center and he has continued working with the center in its after-school program. “Ozzy is a hard worker and is good with the younger kids in his cottage,” Dietch said, “so I knew he would do well on the mission.”
Ozzy and his siblings came to the Youth Ranches two years ago after a failed adoption. One by one, his siblings ended up being discharged from the Youth Ranches, but Ozzy was determined to stay. He was ready to make a change in his life for the better. “They offer so much here.” Ozzy said with sincerity. “I’ve been to other places. Nowhere is as good as here.”
When Ozzy arrived at the Youth Ranches, his grades were poor and high school had been rough for him, but now things are definitely looking up. “School is going great!” Ozzy said with a smile. “I almost have my GED and then I want to go to PTEC (Pinellas Technical Education Centers) and get certified to work in marine mechanics.”
When asked if he would consider doing more mission work, Ozzy’s answer was a resounding “Definitely!” “It was so different over there,” he said. “They had such a sense of community and unity. They definitely taught us more than we ever could have taught them.”
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of "The Rancher" magazine. If you'd like to subscribe to "The Rancher", or learn more about what we do, call 1-800-765-3797, or email email@example.com.
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Few things set up our young men and women for adulthood more than helping them learn to craft a strong work ethic. Work is one of the four pillars of our success plan, so it should come as no surprise that we place a high value on it. Work teaches a lot about responsibility. It teaches our students about accountability, the value of money, and the value of contributing. Choosing and applying for a job shows a commitment to employment that also helps teens build valuable time-management skills as they learn to balance multiple tasks, such as school, work, and social lives.
Each one of our students is required to work, and the campuses offer several onsite opportunities. These jobs allow the students to earn a paycheck while learning the value of time and money. They can receive raises for performance that exceeds expectations or they can be fired for poor performance. Just because these jobs are on our campus doesn’t mean they are any less important or any less real than ones beyond our borders. Our students are expected to treat these like real jobs, because they are.
While we have a structured work program, we also offer our students the opportunity to participate in vocational rotations. For one hour a week, for four consecutive weeks, our students can rotate through different career areas throughout the Ranch. They learn basic skills of each trade over the month and then they can move on to the next field. This is an ideal way for our youth to find job opportunities that suit their individual interests and skills. One rotation might involve students spending a month at the garage to learn about basic automotive maintenance, or at the cafeteria to find a flare for food or the hospitality industry. Rotations provide any number of exciting on-campus job opportunities to experience.
Some skills that can be learned include operating large equipment, like mowers, tractors, and vehicles. They can also find their calling with cooking and food management or horticulture and landscaping, recreation, agriculture, livestock, general maintenance, plumbing, and more. We have students who work at the local Sheriffs Ranches Enterprises Thrift Store, learning customer service and gaining valuable retail experience.
While building a strong work ethic is the primary goal, having jobs also helps students build self-esteem. Rotations help them become comfortable in a work environment so they feel less stressed about learning on the job in the workplace.
Our students develop a sense of responsibility as they become accountable for the work they produce. They learn to practice time management skills as they complete assignments according to deadlines.
Vocational rotation and daily jobs also help improve social skills, and teach students how to respond politely and efficiently to customers and the needs of their supervisor. Perhaps the most valuable asset is developing a sense of independence as students earn their own money, have their own work schedule, and balance their work and personal responsibilities.
A big part of the mission of the Youth Ranches is to develop resilient and productive citizens. Preparing them for the workforce will affect them now and forever. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to teach valuable life skills to the boys and girls we serve!
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A wall is typically used to divide or keep things separate, but at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Safety Harbor, a wall is bringing the community together.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. The idea was to take a drab wall and paint it with a beautiful mural to tell a story all its own—our story. To accomplish this, the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, Fit4Truth, the Safety Harbor community, and St. Petersburg mural artist Geary “Rasta” Taylor came together in a joint effort for an event called Painting with a Purpose. They set out with our kids, staff, and volunteers to paint a 150-foot mural on the west wall of the campus.
On October 1, several hundred people, along with the artist and our youth, came out for an all-day painting event. The community provided free food, as well as a bounce house and dunk tank that gave our students a chance to drop their favorite staff members into a tank of water. A DJ gave away prizes and there were enough fun events for everyone to have a great time between painting shifts.
Throughout the day, kids and volunteers took turns in a large-scale paint-by-numbers–style patchwork of images that, at the end of the day, came together to form a beautiful representation of life at the Youth Ranch and our mission. The bright and cheery mural depicts the journey and stories of the children living at the Youth Ranches.
The artist spent several weeks before the event on sketching out and designing what the wall would look like, using photographs from the Youth Ranches archives. He then created a plan that could be easily followed so the volunteers and our students could do the majority of the painting.
We caught up with Destiny, a budding artist herself, working on a panel depicting a child playing soccer. “I’ve been working on this one,” she said with a smile, paintbrush in hand. “This one is one of my favorites—I like to play soccer.” She paused and closely inspected what she was working on, comparing it with the template taped to the wall. “I love art and I love to draw,” she continued. ”Now we get to be a part of it and get to see it every day!”
Jacob, one of our own bright and cheery Ranchers, hurled a ball toward the dunking booth at the event, letting out a giddy laugh. He took us on a tour of the wall, pointing to all of the parts he had helped paint. His favorite is the vibrant red and orange sunset.
The mural, which was inspired by our “I am a Rancher” campaign, includes images that focus on the Youth Ranches four pillars of success; Work, Study, Pray, Play. The mural also features the Youth Ranches logo and includes iconic Ranch imagery, such as the statue at the Boys Ranch and youth in action.
Events like our wall-painting day, while beautifying our campus serve a greater purpose by bringing volunteers and donors together with the kids they help. We are greatful for our volunteers and donors from around the state and the communities surrounding our campuses.
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For a lot of students, Friday night high school football is little more than a chance to spend time with friends or a chance to support their local team. For the guys out on the gridiron, though, Friday nights under the bright stadium lights are something entirely different. This football season, Ranchers Dre and Angel are representing the Boys Ranch as members of the Suwannee High School Bulldogs varsity football team.
While it may seem like just a game, these two young men are learning valuable lessons from football while putting in a lot of hard work. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and persistence just to make it on the team and then to game day, and even more to find a place on the field.
“Football is really more than just a game,” said Angel, who plays defensive end and right tackle. “It’s more like a life lesson. It helps teach that determination to never give up, to stay focused, just like the Ranch helps give you that hunger to achieve your goals.”
Each afternoon, four days a week, Dre and Angel hit the field with dozens of their teammates, putting on more than 10 pounds of pads and a helmet, and lacing up cleats. For most of us, that doesn’t seem like a fun thing to do, especially in the heat, but for the SHS Bulldogs, it’s part of practice makes perfect. Proper preparation is needed to be successful in life and in football. Success requires a strong work ethic—something our boys learn each and every day at the Ranch.
Dre, who plays running back, has been on the team for the last three years and is always amazed by how powerful it can be to work toward a common goal. “The best part is when we all come together as one,” he said, “It’s really great to see us working together. We get to see all that hard work pay off.”
Football is an excellent example of teamwork. With 11 players on each side of the ball, everyone is counted on to play their individual roles. Expectations are high, with a tremendous amount of accountability required from each player to do a specific job on every play. Just like at the Boys Ranch, the game teaches the teamwork that is required to become accustomed to working with others, a skill that is required in almost every profession.
“It requires a lot of discipline,” Dre added. “We train hard, and the Ranch definitely helped prepare me for that. Sometimes it seems like the coach wants to break us, just to rebuild us, and it requires a lot of determination and discipline to reach our goals.”
Football is a game of inches. That kind of margin for error requires keen attention to detail from everyone on the field. One wrong step, one dropped pass, or one mental error can have a negative effect on any given play. Knowing this reinforces the importance of being disciplined in everything they do. This discipline extends into their school work as well. All the players must be able to maintain an impressive GPA to even be able to play.
For Dre and Angel, the benefits of being on the team are far reaching; some easy to see and some not so easy. It can be improved health—Dre started playing football to help get fit—or learning the value of teamwork. They learn to be selfless while also learning about overcoming obstacles or the value of being part of something greater than oneself.
The positive effect the sport has had on the boys is undeniable. For Dre and Angel, football has been an amazing way to express themselves, find personal growth, and—maybe most importantly—have fun.
Dre and Angel haven’t been the only ones who have enjoyed their time on the team. At any given home game, it isn’t unusual to see Mom and Pop and the rest of their cottage in the stands, cheering them on.