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‘I think this person will be surprised to hear their name called,” Mr. Fletcher announced to the crowd at the 2020 Boys Ranch Awards Banquet. In one hand was a microphone and in the other was the highest award given at this event: the Program Director’s Award. “But they will forever remember the night when they heard the name… Adrianna.”
Adrianna, known by everyone at the Ranch as A.J., made her way up to the stage to receive her award, one hand on the stair rail and the other lifting up the front of her white and gold evening gown. As Mr. Fletcher predicted, she was very surprised to be handed the glass trophy inscribed with her name. “I thought I was in trouble,” A.J. remembered. “Adrianna is my ‘getting in trouble’ name.”
When she looked out at the crowd, A.J. caught sight of her cottage mom holding back tears. A.J. is a quiet, reserved young lady. She keeps her head down, works hard, and supports her cottage behind the scenes whenever she can. Despite keeping a low profile, her work ethic and dedication are evident to everyone around her. Her on-campus job at the Ranch is working with the Maintenance department. She can often be seen mowing grass, planting flower beds, and maintaining other areas around campus.
“When I was little I kind of grew up helping people mow grass and stuff. So I already know how to do this.” The work is familiar and rewarding. “I like to show off a little bit,” A.J. admitted.
“I like to get the job done. If I’m mowing, I want to get the job done. If I want to get the plants planted, I have to get that job done.”
This attitude earned A.J. a second award at the banquet: Hardest Worker. “A lot of you lead by example,” Mr. Howard, who works in Maintenance at the Boys Ranch, said to the crowd. “I couldn’t be more proud to work alongside you. But I’m happy with this choice because…she works for me,” he said, grinning.
Along with a strong work ethic, A.J. is also known for her determination. Once she puts her mind to something, she finishes it. When signups opened on campus for Riding Ranchers, A.J. was one of the many Ranchers who showed up to the meeting. One of the most difficult things Riding Ranchers have to do is learn a choreographed riding routine for the Boys Ranch Open House Grand Entry ceremony.
“It’s easy when I picture it in my head,” A.J. explained, “but when you’re trying to control a horse that’s really stubborn, it’s tough.”
Despite being thrown from her horse a few times during practice, A.J. got up, brushed herself off, and got right back into the saddle. Her perseverance and drive to pursue what she wants is reinforced by the support she receives from her cottage family. “Here it’s really different, especially my cottage parents. Here we do things as a group.” When A.J. needs support, she
knows she can go to her cottage mom and talk. “I used to be super quiet and by myself,” she explained. “And now, since I’ve been here, I’ve bloomed like a flower.”
After she graduates high school next year, A.J. wants to find a job and an apartment so she can be close to her family. Living at the Ranch has given A.J. a chance to flourish and has put her on track for a successful future.
“This place has helped me so much,” she said. “I’m always smiling and I like to put smiles on other people’s faces.”
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After turning 16, Shia decided it was time to get a job off campus. He approached the job search as if it were a puzzle to be solved. He calmly analyzed the situation, researched possible solutions, and put a plan in place. In preparation for getting a job, Shia and one of his cottage mates put their heads together to write a resume, which included two summers working at the recreation center on campus and helping with chores around the cottage every night after supper.
When Shia put in his application at a local McDonald’s, he made sure the managers remembered him. He spoke with them in person and continued to follow up after the first meeting. The most important thing he did was memorize the McDonald’s mission statement and quote it back during
his interview. Two days later Shia got a call back with a job offer.
“I’m at this point in my life where I have to work hard for my future and not just be lazy,” Shia said. Being lazy is definitely not in Shia’s nature. Oftentimes he can be found walking on the sidewalk near the campus, working out all of his pent-up energy. He sprints across a parking lot to toss a bottle in the trash, beats out a rhythm on the crosswalk button, and leaps over the four steps that lead up to the entrance of a local restaurant.
“Sometimes I sing,” he explained. “I’m in varsity choir so I practice as I walk.”
Even though he passes plenty of people on the sidewalk and cars waiting at the traffic light, Shia doesn’t hold back. “I don’t care if anyone hears me because I have confidence in my singing.”
Confidence is key in Shia’s book. If one is confident in their skills, they have no reason to hide them. “I have confidence in my grades, my social skills, my athletic ability,” he lists.
Since working at McDonald’s, Shia has added another item: customer service skills.
“Obviously with customers, it’s talking to them differently than you would with a friend. You’ve got to greet them with a lot of respect so they’ll treat you with a lot of respect,” Shia said.
Even when a positive attitude isn’t reciprocated, Shia knows has to keep moving forward. “I’m going to put forth the same amount of energy, but I’m not going to let it affect me if they don’t respect me back. I just need to keep going with my job.”
This level of maturity is a hard-won prize. Since being at the Ranch, Shia has learned a lot about the kind of man he wants to be. His athletic abilities, work ethic, and success in school have set a course toward a bright future.
“I want to be a professional football player in the NFL,” Shia announced without hesitation.
He practices every evening after dinner, investing as much time as he can in improving his skills. As Shia enters the workforce and begins planning for his future, he understands that there is a lot of change waiting for him.
“It’s just a part of life,” he explained. “You can’t be scared of it. You can’t go forward in your future if you’re just going to dwell on the past.”
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We knew camp was going to be different this year. In March 2020, our staff began ramping up for camp at the same time COVID-19 made its way to Florida. It was a big decision whether or not to have camp this year. We decided if we could recruit staff and parents trusted us with their children, we would have summer camp—BUT there would have to be big changes.
Camp population was reduced; the size of individual groups was cut in half to encourage social distancing and limit contact with others as much as possible. Staff wore masks and encouraged their kids to do the same. Canoes and helmets and bows and arrows were wiped down and sprayed with disinfectant between each use. Hand sanitizer was added to program areas next to coolers of water and cans of bug spray. Activity leaders wore masks and gloves to serve the kids at meals rather than family style, careful to remind everyone not to share drinks or utensils. It felt awkward and obvious; wearing a mask in the woods at the height of summer was a constant reminder of how much the world has changed in the last year.
What we didn’t expect out of all this was the campers’ reaction: nothing changed. Mask or no mask, campers still strapped on their safety harnesses and helmets, scaled up a telephone pole, and walked across a cable suspended 25 feet in the air. They waited patiently while the archery instructor doused the bows and arrows in disinfectant spray, hands shooting up when the group leader asked if anyone wanted to do a second round. Kids stood to the side and chattered excitedly about their first time canoeing while the activity leader wiped down the surface of the canoes for the next rotation of campers.
Everywhere you look at camp, relationships are being forged. Campers are reaching out with a sweeping curiosity, waiting for a friend to enter their radar. They ask each other about music, movies, and video games, carefully testing the path for common ground. Staff members hoot and holler through the trees, trading jokes and snatches of conversation in an easy, familiar way that inspires campers to do the same. Camp still feels like home. Masks and hand sanitizer and disinfectant included. For many of the kids who come to camp, home is something they desperately need a taste of. They come from low income families, sometimes with backgrounds of neglect and abuse.
At camp they find unending waves of support from group leaders, deputies, and fellow campers. Law enforcement officers from their communities spend the week connecting with their campers. They laugh at their jokes, help them at the activity stations, and offer guidance when a camper needs it. The Youth Ranches has always been unique in its approach to camp. We’re here to give boys and girls a chance to have an authentic summer camp experience regardless of social status or income. We show them that law enforcement officers are their friends. We teach them how to respect themselves, each other, and the world around them. All of this is possible because of you, our generous donor family.
Thank you for what you do to ensure boys and girls all over the state of Florida have a great summer camp experience and a chance to change their lives for the better.
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The fall edition of the Rancher magazine is now out! This edition includes a recap of summer camp, inspirational stories about our youth and much more. Check it out by clicking the image below.
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The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches has embarked on a $3.7 million campaign to renovate and open Camp Sorensen in Nassau County in order to provide expanded youth camping programs in Northeast Florida. The camp will be located on approximately 130 acres, on the St. Mary's River west of Hilliard, Florida.
The campaign was launched when Firehouse Subs Co-Founder, Robin Sorensen and his wife Tabitha, made an anchor gift to purchase, renovate and open Camp Sorensen. The Sorensen's funded the Youth Ranches $900,000 purchase of the former First Baptist Church Jacksonville Hilliard Retreat Center. The couple has a big heart when it comes to kids and are large donors of several children-focused charities in Northeast Florida
Camp Sorensen will provide camping services for deserving children from around the state each year. Our summer camping programs teach boys and girls team building activities while having fun with volunteer deputies. Camp activities include high ropes, challenge course, swimming, canoeing, archery and a host of traditional camp activities.
During the remainder of the year, camp will offer programming related to leadership, diversity, athletics and team-building through community partnerships.
Youth Ranches President Bill Frye stated, “Our camping programs are full every year with a generous waiting list. This is a great opportunity to serve more boys and girls. We are grateful for this generous gift and an opportunity to expand our services in Northeast Florida.”
The campaign is structured so that donors can choose particular areas of interest to support with possible naming and recognition opportunities. “The Youth Ranches is a donor-funded organization and relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations, foundations and companies to fund our programs. We have reached 37% of the campaign goal but more is needed to complete the project,” shares Frye.
For a complete informational packet about this project or if you wish to donate, please call Maria Knapp at (386) 842-5501.
If you wish to donate to the Camp Sorensen campaign online, please visit here.
607 Retreat Acres Rd
PO Box 70