The vulnerability of children tugs at our heartstrings like no other group on the planet. Our innate desire and guttural need to protect a child remind us that as humans, there is no greater responsibility than to provide and care for our next generation. We feel this as children, learning early on to hold the hands of younger siblings and friends, making sure others don’t harm them.
Then, one day, you have children of your own and it is a whole new ballgame. The overwhelming feeling of love envelops you and your child in a cocoon in the beginning stages and that is where you wish to stay, all comfortable and safe with your newborn in your arms. Eventually, they make their way out into the world but we are always their first protectors, trying to look further down the path than they can see to clear the way for them.
In a perfect world, families stay together, finances are sufficient to keep a roof over everyone’s head and food in their bellies, and there is harmony and a healthy environment in which to thrive. We all know that circumstances and choices can tear at the fabric of a family and leave children without suitable care. Homelessness or criminal activity on behalf of the parents which often includes drug usage can pose a variety of threats to children. Thankfully, there are organizations in place to be a beacon of hope for those most in need.
Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch has been working miracles in the lives of at-risk youth since 1957. Over the years they have helped over 150,000 children and their families, helping to stave off a life of crime and instilling core family values and character traits to help them become productive members of society. Founded by a group of Florida sheriffs who saw the need to help wayward boys at the time reach their full potential, FSYR is built on a foundation of principles that some may find antiquated. For example, all boys and girls who are accepted into the program must agree to participate in religious activities and be able to pull their weight around the camp, doing their fair share of chores. Though not novel ideas, these traits are often lacking in modern families.
Throughout Florida there are six Florida Youth Ranch facilities; four residential campuses and two summer camp locations. The residential facilities are in Bartow, Live Oak, Safety Harbor and Sarasota/Bradenton. Children are met by “cottage parents,” who have undergone a highly rigorous vetting process and necessary background checks. In this family-style setting, these neglected children learn about self-respect, boundaries and how a strong work ethic can turn their lives around. All children attend school and are encouraged to engage in extra-curricular activities like sports and social groups. In addition to the residential program, two summer camps located in Yankeetown and Barberville provide a fun and safe environment for kids who learn how to canoe, and do archery all while learning about teamwork and proper communication. Additionally, a program called “Harmony in the Streets,” is a day camp program which sets up in economically-challenged areas teaching young participants about using their free time in positive and fun ways.
Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch has made relevant changes in the lives of boys and girls for over 60 years. It is wonderful to see a program stand the test of time. The proof of its success is in the lives of children who, through the love and care of others, have discovered their voices and self-worth. Many of those who have been through the program come back and give of their time, further cementing an already strong foundation of volunteers. If you would like more information on Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch, please visit their website.
Photos courtesy of Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch Facebook page.