(800) 765-3797  fsyr@youthranches.org

Miracle Garden

Nestled against a chain-link fence that wraps around the Boys Ranch pool is a raised flower bed teeming with life. Green every brick barrier as spinach, tomatoes, onions, and peppers thrive under the Florida sun. The Miracle Garden is a onestop-shop for a fresh, organic salad for the boys who look after it.

Boys Ranch Recreational Director Tony Dodd got the idea to plant a garden on campus when a few Ranchers became curious about the salads Mr. Dodd ate for lunch every day. Scott, one of the Ranchers who helped build and maintain the garden, commented, “We all wanted to do it because he showed us the salads he made. He let us eat some of it and it was really good.” The other three boys—Jeremy, Jason, and Tyler—were also interested in the project.

“Some of us wanted to eat better, get in shape and get healthy,” Tyler said.

Before there was a garden, the small patch of earth was an island of landscaping that was lost amid the concrete expanse of the campus pool.

“After we cleaned it out, we spent like a whole week scooping cow manure,” Tyler said, laughing.

“Dried cow manure,” Jeremy corrected. "We went to the field and scooped up a lot of dried cow manure. We put it into barrels, put it into the trailer and then unloaded
it into the garden. Got some shovels and broke it all up, and then we got a bunch of soil and put it on top of that.”

The hard work involved in putting their garden together wasn’t a deterrent for these Ranchers. They listened when Pop Dodd explained why they layer the manure and then the soil and how to pull weeds and water the plants.

“He said it would look really nice. Now it looks more than really nice,” Jeremy said.

Once the soil was properly layered in the bed, the boys had to decide what plants they wanted to include in their garden. They looked to Mr. Dodd for help, remembering the delicious salad they had all sampled.

“Some of the plants we bought, and some of the plants Pop Dodd had at his house,” Scott explained.

One of the most important aspects of this garden is the lack of chemicals used to fight off pests.

“We didn’t use any pesticides,” Jeremy said.

“No chemicals at all,” Scott added. “It’s all natural. Organic.”

Right now, the Miracle Garden consists of Seminole pumpkins, an assortment of spinach, moringa (God’s Tree), yardlong beans, Egyptian walking onions, cherry tomatoes, purple tree collards, mushroom herb, and peppers. Now that they can see the fruits of their labor, all four boys are excited to expand their garden across the Ranch.

“I would definitely like to see an apple tree,” Jeremy said.

“Yeah, somewhere on the Ranch,” Scott agreed. “Because fruit, when it’s hot and everything, it hydrates you and you feel better.”

“We could also do raspberries and blackberries,” Tyler said. “And blueberries and watermelons.”

“I’d like to plant some Japanese plums,” Jason added. “It’s small, like the size of a grape, and orange. Like an orange cherry.”

The boys aren’t shy about picking out a snack from their garden. Often times they’ll pick a stack of various types of spinach, forgo a bowl and salad dressing, and eat what Mr. Dodd calls a “leaf sandwich.”

“It’s better than Skittles!” Jeremy said.


Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are beginning to realize that states are in a difficult position, with children’s lives at risk if they rush to comply with Family First legislation without adequate plans in place.

By Bill Frye

Published July 5, 2019

This column first appeared as a special to the Tampa Bay Times.

The need for foster parents in Florida is critical. In many regions of the state, there is a shortage of beds and suitable placement options for children entering the foster care system. The Family First Prevention Services Act — which Congress passed last year as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 — seeks to change foster care across the nation by investing more funds in treatment and prevention services that are aimed at keeping families together and preventing children from entering the system.

Part of this reform includes limiting states from placing children in residential group homes. Proponents argue that foster homes are better for children than group homes, and child welfare staff should only use group homes as a short-term last resort. Under Family First, states risk losing federal funds if they place children in residential group settings — even family-style models — for longer than two weeks.

With an approaching deadline of Sept. 30 to comply with the new legislation, many states have been trying to reform their systems and limit their use of group homes. However, looking at other states trying to comply with these reforms provides an alarming glimpse into what could happen here in Florida, with fewer options for foster children than we have today. There are stories, in states like Illinois, of children being housed in hotels or, in some cases, locked psychiatric facilities without clinical needs because caseworkers have nowhere else to put them. Even before this legislation, Florida has struggled with finding suitable places to put children. The Department of Children and Families settled a lawsuit earlier this year in South Florida (H.G. vs. Carroll) over the state’s failure to provide enough foster home beds.

Nearly 40 percent of Florida’s child welfare budget comes from the federal government under Title IV-E funds. It’s understandable that state officials are concerned about potentially losing this significant source of funding. However, as we’re starting to see in other states, most states are not ready to meet the standards of the Family First Prevention Services Act without significant consequences to their foster care systems. Trying to do so means fewer options for children entering a foster care system that is already struggling to keep up. It could also result in leaving children in dangerous situations because federal funds incentivize keeping families together.

Fortunately, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are beginning to realize that states are in a difficult position, with children’s lives at risk if they rush to comply with this legislation without adequate plans in place. The State Flexibility for Family First Transitions Act (S 107), introduced earlier this year by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would provide states with a two-year extension, allowing them to continue receiving Title IV-E funds while they figure out how to comply with Family First and how residential group homes fit into the picture before simply eliminating them as part of the continuum of care.

The goals of Family First include keeping children from entering foster care while, at the same time, reducing the use of group homes. However, it’s important to recognize that high-quality, family-style residential group homes across the country have played a role in keeping kids out of foster care for many years. Residential group homes are also designed to keep siblings together instead of splitting them up, which often occurs in the foster system. In many cases, parents or guardians voluntarily bring their child to a family style group home like the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. Cottage parents and staff work with the young man or woman to get things back on track — which includes improving their grades, changing their behaviors, developing a healthy self-esteem and more. When a child is able to return home and the relationship with their family is restored, it’s a success story that we hope to see repeated again and again.

The State Flexibility for Family First Transitions Act is gaining attention, with Florida Reps. Greg Steube, a Republican, and Kathy Castor, a Democrat, recently introducing a companion bill the House, HR 3116. Florida Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Gus Bilirakis and Neal Dunn have recently signed on as co-sponsors. We hope other members of Congress, including other members of our Florida legislative delegation, will take notice and recognize that states need more time to make these changes to their foster care systems without risking children’s lives.

Bill Frye is the president of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, a residential group care program with four campuses for boys and girls. The Youth Ranches has operated in Florida since 1957.

The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches has been selected by SE Grocers to participate in the Giving Tag Program. When you purchase a Community Bag at any BI-LO, Harvey’s, Winn Dixie or Fresco y Más store, you can use the Giving Tag attached to the bag to direct a $1 donation to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches.

This is a great way to support the environment and fund raise for our cause all year long. The cost of the Community Bag with the Giving Tag is $2.50. There are two designs to choose from.

After purchasing your bag follow the instructions on the Giving Tag to direct a $1 donation to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches.

Please help us maximize this opportunity by sharing this information with your family and friends on social media!

For more information about this program, please contact Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Director of Development Wayne Witczak at 1-800-765-3797 or email wwitczak@youthranches.org.

Say Hello to our Board of Directors

We are pleased to announce our 2019 board of directors, led by Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell serving as chair. This year’s board includes seven sheriffs and other community leaders throughout Florida.

“Our board of directors plays a big role in the mission and vision of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches,” said Youth Ranches President Bill Frye. “We are fortunate to have such a talented group of board members to help provide strategic direction and guide the work we do every day with the boys and girls in our programs.”

Along with Sheriff Prummell serving as the new board chair, the 15-member board includes a new treasurer, Vicky Talmadge, and new board members Mark Becker, Tucker Lemley and Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum. The board meets four times a year at various Youth Ranches campuses around the state.

The 2019 board of directors includes:

Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell – Chair
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper - Immediate Past Chair
Dan Hager – Vice Chair
Vicky Talmadge – Treasurer
Dr. Patrick Coggins – Secretary
Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford – Board Member
Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum – Board Member
Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz – Board Member
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly – Board Member
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells – Board Member
Mark Becker – Board Member
Tucker Lemley – Board Member
Rose Mary Treadway Oelrich – Board Member
G.J. Orgeron – Board Member
Dr. Jim Sewell – Board Member

An important article about the future of child welfare in Florida by Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches President Bill Frye was published in the Tampa Bay Times on February, 1, 2019. You can read the column here.