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“We’ve never had a real Christmas,” Aiden said, as he shook a box neatly wrapped with colorful paper, trying to figure out what gift was hidden inside.
He wasn’t saying it to be dramatic or to try to get the chance to open his gifts early. It was just a quiet comment to his sister, Alexis.
The truth is, for the fifth-grader and his older sister, their lives before the Youth Ranches had been anything but consistent and being able to celebrate Christmas each year wasn’t a given.
“My favorite part of Christmas is the food,” Alexis said with a smile as she carefully read the instructions to assemble an artificial pre-lit tree. “This is the first time I have ever put together a Christmas tree,” she said, enjoying the tedious work of bending the branches into a full and iconic tree shape.
Aiden and Alexis are like a lot of children across the state of Florida. Simple joys like unwrapping Christmas gifts or decorating a Christmas tree aren’t guaranteed to them. For so many underprivileged and needy boys and girls across the state, their next meal isn’t guaranteed, and celebrating the holidays isn’t something they know they are missing out on.
Our sibling program has allowed the pair to stay not only at the same campus, but in the same cottage as well. However, the transition from being bounced around to coming to the stability of the Youth Ranches hasn’t been completely easy. There have been some outbursts, a few tears and a learning curve to understand what is expected of them, but the pair has been excelling. Now, with no hesitation, they know the Youth Ranch as their home.
Alexis, who struggled to find her niche in town school, is thriving with a little more individualized attention at the on-campus Cooke School and now looks forward to her walk to school each morning. Aiden, like a lot of boys, doesn’t love school, but he is incredibly bright and his favorite subjects are math and science.
School is a top priority at the Youth Ranches, but if Aiden is honest, sometimes his main focus is his little league football team, the Gators. Both he and his sister know they finally have the opportunity for a stable life with people who truly care about them, their well-being and their future.
Many children like Aiden and Alexis come from home lives they didn’t choose. It wasn’t their choice to have no other options than to call the Boys Ranch home, but because of you, they never want to leave.
“I want to stay here!” Alexis said passionately. “I want to graduate high school and go to college.”
Aiden and Alexis got to have their first real Christmas at the Boys Ranch. There was a tree, an amazing meal, a banquet and even presents. Best of all, they got to celebrate with cottage parents who care about them and dozens of new Rancher brothers and sisters.
It is because of people like you that we can provide a loving home to young men and women like Aiden and Alexis. It is because of your commitment to the Youth Ranches that we have a flourishing sibling program and can keep families together under one roof and give them hope for
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Honoring our Heroes
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” - Joseph Campbell
America has lost many icons this past year; the most notable has been Senator John McCain. A decorated military veteran and long-standing United States Senator, he was known for his straight talk and willingness to work with others even when their personal opinions differed. Senator McCain’s passing became a national event, with parades and his body lying in state both in the Arizona State Capitol and the Capitol of the United States. During the ceremonies, eulogies were given by statesmen, former U.S. presidents, vice presidents and many others. Our country’s flag flew at half-staff for the week-long period of mourning before he was buried at Annapolis. It was truly a hero’s memorial service.
Here at the Youth Ranches, we too have mourned the loss of our own heroes. While neither were televised or gained national or statewide notoriety nor were our flags flown at half-staff, their passing was to us just as memorable. You see, this past year we lost two of our former Cottage Pops. These men played a very important role in the lives of many boys and girls who called the Youth Ranches home. Both Allen “Pop” Barnett and A.C. “Pop” Davis were long-term cottage parents with the Youth Ranches. Over their years of service, hundreds of boys and girls came to know, love and respect both of these men. They represented the very best of what it meant to be a father, husband and role model.
On two separate occasions, current and former staff, along with former Ranchers — many with their own families — came together at our Boys Ranch Chapel to honor these men and their own families. They came to say farewell and thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many. While there were no parades or long processions, there were speeches, and better yet, testimonies from the men who were once boys living and learning under the watchful eyes of these two outstanding role models. There were also tears, smiles and laughter as stories were told by staff, family members and alumni. I heard more than once an outpouring of love and devotion that our alumni held for both of these heroes. While Pop Davis’ wife, Sandy, had previously passed, Pop Barnett’s wife, Francis, was there in attendance, and the men who were once boys in her cottage embraced her and repeatedly referred to her as "Mom".
For me, this was a very special moment to say goodbye or “see you later”. I knew and respected these two men because I saw their unconditional love for children. They, along with their wives, dedicated themselves to helping the boys and girls who call the Youth Ranches home, and they did it with passion! Not all heroes are nationally known figures. Some are ordinary people doing extraordinary things, like providing love and compassion to a hurting child.
Thank you to all of our Sheriffs, donors and supporters for allowing us the opportunity to serve so many children who are in desperate need of love and support. You, too, are our heroes because without your unconditional love for our children and generosity, we could not exist!
P.S. As I finished writing this article, Hurricane Michael was bearing down on Florida’s Panhandle Region. Our brave Law Enforcement Officers and Emergency Responders were preparing to meet the needs of their communities both during and later in the aftermath. Hurricane Michael would make landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane and leave in its path devastation and broken lives. Many children who live at the Youth Ranches came from these areas and remained safe and secure in their cottages all because of the generosity of our donors and supporters. When we look for heroes, we need not look too far to find them all around us. You are all our heroes and we remain grateful for each of you!
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We have learned that mail sent to our P.O. Box 2000, Boys Ranch, FL 32064 address is being returned to sender by the U.S. Postal Service. This is our correct mailing address. We have notified the U.S. Postal Service about the problem. If your mail to us is returned, please wait 2-3 days and try to send it again. If you’d like to make a donation using your credit card, please call our donor processing department at (386) 842-5501, or (800) 765-3797. Donations can also be made online using our secure website at www.youthranches.org.
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The Miami-Dade Police Department recently shared a video from their FSYR Mobile Camp session on Twitter.
This is your #MDPDconnecting! This week, #MDPD officers partnered with @FLSheriffsYR for the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches Mobile Summer Camp. Get a glimpse into their week in the video below. 🏹👏 pic.twitter.com/6AmQjqRlA6— Miami-Dade Police (@MiamiDadePD) August 3, 2018