Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranch aims to improve lives of at-risk kids

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A non-profit organization is changing lives one kid at a time. The mission of Florida's Sheriffs' Youth Ranches is to improve the lives of at-risk children and mentor them into strong and lawful citizens. 

"Their aim is to encourage kids to grow," said Phil Landry, a mentor at Florida's Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Safety Harbor. "I'd say there is definitely a need for something like this."

Founded in 1957, the organization tries to prevent delinquency. Through community service and fun-filled events, children can build character and develop a sense of responsibility. The ranch offers residential care, summer camps, and careers for those wanting to be a part of it. 

"It's doing things together, so we'll do all kinds of things together. That includes crafts, competing in games against other folks. As long as you're willing not to put requirements on how things should go, you can have a great time, a fun time," said Landry. 

The charity currently has six different locations. If you're in the Tampa Bay area, the local campuses are in Bradenton and Safety Harbor. At these camps, children are able to participate in golf tournaments, horse-back riding, and car shows. The youth ranches are credited with helping more than 152,000 children and families, some are even housed in their cottages.

"There's about 10 kids in every cottage. Obviously they have their own rules in how they run things. But, it becomes kind of your family," said Landry. 

The ranch is primarily dependent on donations, and gives something that money can't buy. The program provides neglected children with nurturing family-structure homes.

"It's good to have a safety net, where you can feel comfortable, where you can know that you're loved, and where you can grow and grow up," Landry said.

This summer, the organization grieved the loss of their president, Harry K. Weaver. Weaver was a beloved member of the ranch for over 30 years, and changed many lives. The current mentors of the ranch hope to follow in his footsteps.

"I'd say I've changed. I have become less afraid, less anxious, about whether I was doing the right thing, or saying the right thing," said Landry. 

In order to be a part of the organization, folks are encouraged to apply online or register for single events.

LINK: If you're interested in learning more about the youth ranch or would like to donate, visit their website.