(800) 765-3797  fsyr@youthranches.org

At the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, one of the most exciting parts about working with the youth in our care is seeing the tremendous growth that can happen. When boys and girls are introduced to the safe, nurturing environment at the Ranch, it’s often the first time in a long time they can breathe easy.

Bella came to the Ranch already on the defensive. Past experiences had left her suspicious and untrusting of adults. She was adamant that any respect she offered to the people in her life had to be earned.

“When I first got here, I was not a nice person,” Bella remembers. “But my cottage parents were nice people. I respected them, so there was no point in having an attitude anymore.”

After living at the Youth Ranches for over a year, Bella graduated high school and moved into the Polk Sheriff’s Charities Scholarship House. This environment is designed to help youth transition into adulthood while they pursue higher education and find a job. The Scholarship House is similar to the cottage environment Bella came to know at the Ranch, but with much more freedom, and with it, more responsibility.

One big change is the freedom to adopt a pet—if the student can prove that they can take care of it. Bella has two aquariums set up in her bedroom with goldfish, catfish and minnows she caught in the lake. There is also a terrarium with a bearded dragon she has named “Chiefy.”

Her bearded dragon was an unexpected addition; another student couldn’t continue taking care of him, and Bella became his owner. She didn’t take this lightly. Chiefy has become a big part of her life.

She makes sure his tank is clean, he has access to a heat lamp and treats him to his favorite snack: strawberries. Taking on these pets requires a lot of Bella’s time, but she is making sure she creates a good home for them.

Over the last year, Bella has learned a lot about herself. Her passion for fixing and riding her bike has expanded to include maintaining the van that the Scholarship House uses to transport some of the students. Bella has taken it upon herself to keep this van looking like new.

“I can tell you every single thing about that van,” Bella said. “I’ve read the manual twice.”

When she pops open the hood, she expertly points out the location of different fluids and deftly pulls out the dipstick to check the oil level. Everything about the van is familiar to her, and she takes pride in knowing that it meets her standard of excellence.

Before the van, there was the bike. When Bella was a teenager, a Sheriff’s Deputy had seen the old bike she was riding. It was all but falling apart, so he used his own money to buy her a brand-new one.

“I haven’t seen him since,” Bella said. “I haven’t seen him since,” Bella said. “But when I needed a bike, he gave me this one brand-new. It was probably the most important thing I had.”

She customizes every inch of it, making it her own. She’s added a scanning strobe light and Bluetooth speaker to the front and attached a waterproof storage box to the top tube of the frame.

Like the van, she regularly goes over every part of the bike to make sure it’s in top condition.

When she’s not riding her bike or detailing the van, Bella likes to go fishing. She loves to catch the big tilapia running wild in the lake. Every time she pulls one flipping and flopping onto the dock, she scoops it up, kisses it, and reminds it to “Grow big, okay?” before tossing it back into the water.

Since her skills with fixing bikes and learning about van engines have become apparent, Bella has decided to pursue a mechanics certification at a local technical college. She is excited to begin this new phase in her life, and hopes to get a job at a local Ford dealership when she graduates.

While living at the Scholarship House, she is expected to attend school and keep a steady job. This is all a new phase of life for Bella, but her passion and fierce work ethic as well as the support of the staff at the Scholarship House will help her on her journey. This is a unique program that is helping our youth learn valuable independent living skills. It’s because of your support that a young adult like Bella will begin her life with the tools she needs to be successful!