Guiding Florida’s YouthJanuary 2021
Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches provide opportunities for needy and deserving youth
The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches has provided stable living environments for more than 165,000 children who would have otherwise grown up in a troubled environment.
“The founders wanted to provide an alternative for kids needing a good home,” says Maria Knapp, vice president of Donor and Legislative Affairs with the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. “That’s what we provide.”
The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches was formed in 1957 when a group of sheriffs recognized the need for a residential care facility to target an increasing number of boys with difficult home lives. The organization has since grown to include programs for both boys and girls at seven residential campuses, three summer camps, and multiple outreach locations throughout the Sunshine State. The headquarters is in Live Oak.
“We put them in a stable family environment and work to help them become successful and reach their goals,” Knapp says. “We want them to know that there is a God that loves them and has their best interests at heart.”
By utilizing these residential campuses throughout Florida and having a devoted staff, neglected boys and girls in need are given a sense of security and guidance.
“Sometimes all these kids need is a stable environment and knowing that someone cares for them and believes in them,” she says.
The Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches have residential campuses and camp locations scattered about the state. Participants are placed with a family at one of the residential campuses where the youth are cared for by “cottage parents” in a safe, loving home environment. The parents serve as role models for the kids and work to instill in them a positive work ethic, a sense of responsibility, and respect for themselves and others.
Participants are also required to attend school, where they must keep up with their coursework and make good grades.
Knapp says many of the kids come to them behind in school or with poor study habits, but the youth ranches have certified teachers on staff who work closely with the kids to get them back on grade level. While most students will attend school on their residential campus, some attend local public schools.
Residents are also required to maintain a job and learn financial management skills. Additionally, many of the residents work on the ranches, which are working farms with horses, cows, and other small barnyard animals. Others may work off-campus in the local community.
“We do everything we can to give them the tools they need to be successful and reach their goals,” Knapp says.
After graduation, participants have the option to leave the program, or they can continue in the program and can even get help going to college. The Florida Sheriffs Youth Villa Scholarship House in Bartow, Florida, is used for college-aged kids who still need a place to live or help to apply to a college. Students can attend Polk State College, Traviss Technical College, or Ridge Technical College.
You don’t have to live on a Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches (FSYR) campus to get involved and benefit from FSYR services. There are a number of summer camp opportunities, providing a wholesome experience for children ages 10 to 15.
Campers spend the summer canoeing, horseback riding, participating in archery, swimming, and much more. Knapp says this helps build basic teamwork and communication skills.
Families can also participate in Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches through Harmony in the Streets, a mobile day-camp program that provides activities directly to local communities that may be socially or economically challenged.
“We do everything we can to provide opportunities and experiences that these kids wouldn’t have without the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches,” Knapp says. “We provide them with the opportunities and hope they take advantage of the skills they are taught to have long-term success.”
Eligibility Requirements for Residential Care Programs
To participate in the residential care program, children must meet a number of requirements.
- Legal guardians and youth must be legal residents of the state of Florida.
- Youth must be between 8 and 18 years of age.
- Youth must have no other appropriate living arrangements.
- Youth must be of average or above-average intelligence.
- Youth must not pose a threat to themselves or others.
- Youth must not be a serious, habitual offender.
- Youth must be able to physically participate in program activities.
- Youth agrees to participate in religious activities.
- Youth must perform in a public school setting or another alternative educational program.
- Youth must not have alcohol or drug dependency.
- Youth must be willing to work on personal problems.
- Youth must be recommended by the local sheriff.
If your child is a Florida resident and you are interested in participating in the FSYR residential care program, please contact an intake coordinator at (800) 765-2697.