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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 Sorensen 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.
1023 Retreat Acres Rd
PO Box 70
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A common remark Ranchers will make about their first impression of the Youth Ranches is the structure. Our programs are designed so that boys and girls develop a sense of responsibility, familiarity and safety. Ranchers wake up in a safe home and know what is expected of them. They know their Mom and Pop are going to help them get ready for school, they will have something to eat for breakfast, and when they get home in the afternoon there will be chores, homework, and family dinner.
The Ranchers who recognize that this lifestyle is beneficial to their personal growth tend to seek the same type of structure outside of the Ranch. Ari and Beonca both found familiarity in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program at their high school.
“I have a community at the Ranch, but I never really had that community at school before joining JROTC,” Ari said.
Beonca joined JROTC for the same reason many students do: She wanted to enlist in the Navy after graduating high school. While in the program, she discovered that the values and principles instilled in recruits were helping her become a better leader and a better person.
“It’s not all about doing it so that it’ll show up when I do enlist,” Beonca said. “It’s more about bettering myself as a citizen, developing leadership skills, having self confidence, and having self-discipline.”
Before coming to the Ranch, Beonca’s life was devoid of any form of structure. “It was probably one of the worst environments possible because of my school and my area,” she said. “I was failing.”
Life at the Ranch and in JROTC gave Beonca exactly what she wanted: an opportunity to better herself. “I strive for perfection in pretty much everything I do. I just want to know that I’ve done my best.”
Ari’s growth since living at the Ranch followed a similar path to Beonca’s. As a young teenager, lack of structure and immaturity fed his aimlessness and led him into trouble.
“I wasn’t really that mature,” Ari said. “I messed around, snuck out of school every so often.” A lifelong love of the ocean and his success at the Ranch prompted him to enroll in the Naval JROTC program. “I’m held to a higher standard now so I don’t risk that stuff anymore.” Even though he began as a junior, Ari took on more classes and pushed himself to catch up.
Part of the JROTC program is learning and implementing the principles of leadership. These guidelines have resonated with both Ari and Beonca, carrying over into their everyday lives at the Ranch. They stand out as leaders in their cottages.
“You have to set the example,” Ari said. “If you’re going to be a higher rank, you have to show maturity so the younger kids have someone to look up to.”
Ari takes time to talk with other youth in his cottage who are interested in the JROTC program. He encourages them to try and give 100 percent.
Beonca, the oldest girl in her cottage, took it upon herself to be a leader to her cottage siblings. She said, “One of our principles of leadership is ‘Know your people.’ You have to know who you’re working with and we’re working as a team in the cottage.” She prioritized listening to the other girls and using their feedback to change her own behavior.
“One really important thing I’ve shown in the cottage is positivity, boosting morale.” When something needs to be done, Beonca steps up and encourages her family to work together and push through. Motivation to better oneself as a teenager is a rare find. It takes self-awareness, determination, and maturity.
Ari and Beonca have shown great progress both at the Ranch and in the JROTC program. They have become leaders in their cottages and worked to grow as individuals. Along the way, they found a family they can rely on. “That’s why I love being here at the Ranch,” Beonca said. “We’re a family. I love the family environment and feeling like a family.”
Her JROTC unit feels like being at the Ranch. “They make me feel like I matter to the unit.”