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A wall is typically used to divide or keep things separate, but at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Safety Harbor, a wall is bringing the community together.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. The idea was to take a drab wall and paint it with a beautiful mural to tell a story all its own—our story. To accomplish this, the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, Fit4Truth, the Safety Harbor community, and St. Petersburg mural artist Geary “Rasta” Taylor came together in a joint effort for an event called Painting with a Purpose. They set out with our kids, staff, and volunteers to paint a 150-foot mural on the west wall of the campus.
On October 1, several hundred people, along with the artist and our youth, came out for an all-day painting event. The community provided free food, as well as a bounce house and dunk tank that gave our students a chance to drop their favorite staff members into a tank of water. A DJ gave away prizes and there were enough fun events for everyone to have a great time between painting shifts.
Throughout the day, kids and volunteers took turns in a large-scale paint-by-numbers–style patchwork of images that, at the end of the day, came together to form a beautiful representation of life at the Youth Ranch and our mission. The bright and cheery mural depicts the journey and stories of the children living at the Youth Ranches.
The artist spent several weeks before the event on sketching out and designing what the wall would look like, using photographs from the Youth Ranches archives. He then created a plan that could be easily followed so the volunteers and our students could do the majority of the painting.
We caught up with Destiny, a budding artist herself, working on a panel depicting a child playing soccer. “I’ve been working on this one,” she said with a smile, paintbrush in hand. “This one is one of my favorites—I like to play soccer.” She paused and closely inspected what she was working on, comparing it with the template taped to the wall. “I love art and I love to draw,” she continued. ”Now we get to be a part of it and get to see it every day!”
Jacob, one of our own bright and cheery Ranchers, hurled a ball toward the dunking booth at the event, letting out a giddy laugh. He took us on a tour of the wall, pointing to all of the parts he had helped paint. His favorite is the vibrant red and orange sunset.
The mural, which was inspired by our “I am a Rancher” campaign, includes images that focus on the Youth Ranches four pillars of success; Work, Study, Pray, Play. The mural also features the Youth Ranches logo and includes iconic Ranch imagery, such as the statue at the Boys Ranch and youth in action.
Events like our wall-painting day, while beautifying our campus serve a greater purpose by bringing volunteers and donors together with the kids they help. We are greatful for our volunteers and donors from around the state and the communities surrounding our campuses.
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For a lot of students, Friday night high school football is little more than a chance to spend time with friends or a chance to support their local team. For the guys out on the gridiron, though, Friday nights under the bright stadium lights are something entirely different. This football season, Ranchers Dre and Angel are representing the Boys Ranch as members of the Suwannee High School Bulldogs varsity football team.
While it may seem like just a game, these two young men are learning valuable lessons from football while putting in a lot of hard work. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and persistence just to make it on the team and then to game day, and even more to find a place on the field.
“Football is really more than just a game,” said Angel, who plays defensive end and right tackle. “It’s more like a life lesson. It helps teach that determination to never give up, to stay focused, just like the Ranch helps give you that hunger to achieve your goals.”
Each afternoon, four days a week, Dre and Angel hit the field with dozens of their teammates, putting on more than 10 pounds of pads and a helmet, and lacing up cleats. For most of us, that doesn’t seem like a fun thing to do, especially in the heat, but for the SHS Bulldogs, it’s part of practice makes perfect. Proper preparation is needed to be successful in life and in football. Success requires a strong work ethic—something our boys learn each and every day at the Ranch.
Dre, who plays running back, has been on the team for the last three years and is always amazed by how powerful it can be to work toward a common goal. “The best part is when we all come together as one,” he said, “It’s really great to see us working together. We get to see all that hard work pay off.”
Football is an excellent example of teamwork. With 11 players on each side of the ball, everyone is counted on to play their individual roles. Expectations are high, with a tremendous amount of accountability required from each player to do a specific job on every play. Just like at the Boys Ranch, the game teaches the teamwork that is required to become accustomed to working with others, a skill that is required in almost every profession.
“It requires a lot of discipline,” Dre added. “We train hard, and the Ranch definitely helped prepare me for that. Sometimes it seems like the coach wants to break us, just to rebuild us, and it requires a lot of determination and discipline to reach our goals.”
Football is a game of inches. That kind of margin for error requires keen attention to detail from everyone on the field. One wrong step, one dropped pass, or one mental error can have a negative effect on any given play. Knowing this reinforces the importance of being disciplined in everything they do. This discipline extends into their school work as well. All the players must be able to maintain an impressive GPA to even be able to play.
For Dre and Angel, the benefits of being on the team are far reaching; some easy to see and some not so easy. It can be improved health—Dre started playing football to help get fit—or learning the value of teamwork. They learn to be selfless while also learning about overcoming obstacles or the value of being part of something greater than oneself.
The positive effect the sport has had on the boys is undeniable. For Dre and Angel, football has been an amazing way to express themselves, find personal growth, and—maybe most importantly—have fun.
Dre and Angel haven’t been the only ones who have enjoyed their time on the team. At any given home game, it isn’t unusual to see Mom and Pop and the rest of their cottage in the stands, cheering them on.
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The middle school years of a young person’s life are sometimes difficult. The combination of growing up and wanting more freedom and responsibility, but still needing to learn, more often puts parents and children at odds. Families find that how they have functioned for years all of a sudden isn’t working. Clay’s family found themselves in that position.
Clay’s parents had been divorced for years. He lived with his dad and stepmom, whom he loved, but those challenging middle-school years came and the relationship changed. Clay began rebelling at school. He challenged authority and had a chip on his shoulder. His dad traveled a lot for work. This left a growing young man who needed his father’s guidance in a position of struggle. It began to affect his relationship with his step-mom. Clay and his dad were at odds when his dad was at home.
Living in Pinellas County, the Wick family knew about the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. Their Sheriff was very active with the organization and suggested to Clay’s dad that maybe they needed a break from each other. Clay and his dad were encouraged to explore the Boys Ranch.
Clay brought his hurts with him. He felt like he was being abandoned at a time when he needed his dad the most. He couldn’t see that his behavior was damaging his future, and his father was trying to save that future.
Clay made it to the Boys Ranch in Live Oak and did not expect the life he found there. The expectations for working, performing in school, having fun and attending chapel were laid out before him. “The daily structure set the tone for how life should be,” Clay said. Before Clay realized it, he found himself on grade level with better-than-average grades. He was a member of the football team that won the state play-offs the three years he was at the Boys Ranch. Clay also wrestled and the team won the state cup. Soon, Clay began to think of the Boys Ranch as home. The relationships he built on campus showed him could rebuild relationships with his family.
After he graduated, Clay became a firefighter but found his true calling in the building/site development industry. Clay is a project manager for a high-end residential construction company serving the entire state of Florida. Clay and his wife, Keri, have two beautiful children. Clay is one example of a life changed. His beautiful family and career are a testament to the ideals taught at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches.
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Carrie is usually shy and quiet but, when she walks into the lobby and sees the fish tank, her eyes light up. The fish tank was a gift from Cottage Parents Dave and Mary Egan. Carrie has adopted the fish tank as her own. Pop Egan is passionate about the tank.
He hoped it would bring some joy and understanding of aquaculture to the kids at the Ranches. The day the Egans and their kids relocated the tank from their home to the campus, he found a sidekick in Carrie. Little did he know that Carrie would develop a passion for the tank to rival his own enthusiasm. She asked questions and began a fish journal, taking notes as they worked on setting up the tank. She joined Pop Egan each day as he tended the tank.
He gave her some recommended reading and she read everything straight through. Most days, Carrie has visited the tank before Mr. Egan. She is usually ready with thoughts and comments about the care of the tank and the fish. When he took some time off, Mr. Egan knew the tank would be in good hands with Carrie. When she arrives home each day, Carrie tends to the tank. “You have to feed (the fish) kelp so they keep their color. It also has a lot of vitamins, which keep them healthy,” she says.
Pop Egan is so proud of Carrie. “She has a notebook where she makes notes and journals about the fish,” he said. “Carrie is very in tune with the tank and what is happening in it. She has named all the fish.”
Carrie’s knowledge of the fish, their environment and what is best for them is amazing. She hopes to be a veterinarian one day. Her compassion becomes even more apparent when she talks about Hopper, the trigger fish. “He is very shy,” she says. “When we first put him in the tank, he went into the rocks and wouldn’t come out. He almost died. I would come to the tank every day and try and get him to come out and eat. Eventually he did. Now he recognizes me and he comes to the side of the tank to see me.”
Just like Carrie’s care and compassion allowed the fish to bloom, our staff are excited to see the same kinds of growth in the boys and girls we serve. We thank you our donors for enabling us to provide a home, care and compassion that allows boys and girls to grow and bloom.