The goal of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches is to help young men and women succeed as adults. We provide a family full of patience, love and gentle guidance in an effort to help these children focus on their goals. With the creation of the Polk Sheriff’s Charities Scholarship House, the Youth Ranches has the unique ability to see that success unfold as our youth enter the adult world.
When Jeff graduated high school, he admitted that he didn’t really have a plan.
“When I was a kid, you never heard of going to college,” Jeff said. “People don’t graduate [high school] where I’m from. So when I got offered a college scholarship, I decided I’m going to take this opportunity and be the first one to graduate out of my whole family.”
Jeff’s family immigrated to the United States when he was barely a teenager. The poverty-ridden environment he had grown up in taught him to be tough and cruel as a means of survival.
“When I got over here, I had everything in my hands,” he said, “but I still had the same attitude I had back there. I didn’t want to listen to anybody.”
When Jeff began getting into trouble as a teenager, his family convinced him to consider the Youth Ranches.
“They said it will be a great opportunity and I would succeed there,” he said. Despite his anger and attitude, Jeff’s family saw his work ethic from an early age. They knew that the environment at the Ranch was exactly what he needed to start working toward a successful future. Jeff didn’t just succeed at the Ranch—he thrived.
“We have people that really care about us,” he said. “That’s something people don’t understand—they think the staff just follows the rules. But these people are here to help you. They have wisdom and they will teach you if you listen.”
With the support he received at the Ranch, Jeff dropped his tough exterior and began working on his grades so he could graduate high school on time. He began taking his job on campus seriously and taking odd jobs in the local community that reignited a lifelong passion for cars.
“I always liked cars, no matter what kind it is,” Jeff said.
Working repair jobs at the Ranch gave Jeff the opportunity to do some hands-on learning and helped prepare him for the future.
After graduating high school, Jeff decided to go to the Polk Sheriff’s Charities Scholarship House, not sure if he was really interested in furthering his education. He found a certification program at a local technical college and realized that his dream of working with cars could very easily become a reality.
Two years later, Jeff is getting ready to graduate as a certified technician for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram. Even as a student, he was able to find a job at a local car dealership and learn alongside expert mechanics. The relationships he has forged in this shop have helped him come to terms with this new set of goals he set for himself. Maturing became a top priority for Jeff in recent years. While the Scholarship House provides a safe jumping-off point for young adults, their personal success is wholly dependent on the effort they put into it. Jeff learned very quickly that if he wanted to get anywhere, it was up to him.
“I learned that you have to push yourself to become better,” he said.
As the youngest tech in the dealership service department where he works, Jeff was able to learn from the adults around him. They playfully tease their young protégé and keep him involved with the work they do while still modeling how an adult operates in the workforce. This inclusion helps Jeff to learn even more, both for the job and for his own personal
While at work, Jeff moves from station to station, checking in with his co-workers. His voice echoes off the metal tool chests and pieces of equipment in the high-ceilinged garage. Jeff’s energy and bright smile are infectious, and the other mechanics respond with jokes and greetings.
In the shop, he helps one of his coworkers raise a car on a hydraulic lift and grabs a flashlight off a tool bench to inspect underneath the vehicle. While the other mechanic reads off the customer’s concerns from a computer screen, Jeff does a basic inspection to see if the problem is obvious or something more challenging.
“I actually love when it’s a challenge,” Jeff said. “I like doing the research and figuring out what’s wrong. There’s always more to learn.”
Jeff has come a long way from the angry, confused kid who arrived at the Boys Ranch six years ago. Now he is a confident young adult with a promising future working in a field he loves.
His advice? “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “You’re your own person.”
When you give to the Youth Ranches, you help boys and girls like Jeff find the courage and drive to become successful adults. Your generosity provides a loving home, a quality education, and opportunities for a bright future.