2018 Annual Report

Heart of Florida Youth Ranch

Annual Report


What an Amazing Year!

The Year saw many achievements for our campus. We began with a new record of 34 residents.  That was the maximum our license would allow.  Through out the year we upgraded several training and resource delivery systems to benefit our residents and staff. By June we were steadily at our manximum number with calls every week for the need for additional placements. We made afew alterations and were able to upgrade our license from 34 to 38 residents.  Almost immediately those beds were filled. We have maintained that number pretty consistently. We will close the year with just over 80 children served. That again is a record for The Ranch.  When we say “yes” to a hurting child, they are not just our children, they are your children too.”

Unbridled Hope Equine Assisted Therapy

We are having six classes per week with four residents in each class. Nearly 50 children have been served since classes began. It has been amazing to see the difference as this program has been unveiled. It is somewhat unique and something we can be truly proud of as an agency. The recent horse show was a highlight of my life. I developed a video called “The Best High Five Ever” as a result of one of our resident in that show.  (State of Florida Department of Juvenile Justice paid for 1 child to receive services. This is an area of potential growth)

One of our horses “Junebug” was selected to participate in an equestrian therapy training for horses by the University of Florida working with Wild Horsemanship Center. We will get her back this month and by mid-January she will be our lead horse in the program.  As a result of this, we have secured a grant to have a horse trainer through Wild Horsemanship Center to work with our remaining horses on sight for 6 months. Wild Horsemanship Center is also working to donate a horse trained in Equine Assisted Therapy.  This has been amazing to see God open the doors.

Outstanding Camper at Teen Youth Camp

Out of over 400 campers, one of our residents was named most outstanding camper at the Teen Church of God Florida Youth Camp. What a great moment of healing and encouragement!!

Physical Plant

A singular highlight of the year was the new roof for cottage #1. Connection Point Church in North Carolina provided man-power and The Church of God State Council raised the money for the roof. DONE!!!  And just time for the significant storms of the summer.  I cannot imagine what Cottage 1 would have looked like, if the roof had not been upgraded. One of the highlights of the difficult hurricane aftermath was walking the campus as light began to filter through the storm clouds and see all of our roofs, especially Cottage 1 intact. 

Physical Plant and other Improvements:

  1. Cottage #1 Roof Replaced(Connection Point Church of God, Asheville, NC)
  2. Cottage 2 & 3 Tile Flooring Complete (No Carpet)
  3. Continued Upgraded and remodeled Barn and fencing for equine program.
  4. Donation 2012 Kia Sedona Van (Jenkins Hyundai)
  5. A/C upgrade for Maddies Cupboard (Food Warehouse)
  6. Ice Machine for Admin Kitchen (Larger capacity)
  7. Upgraded Video and Training Equipment.
  8. Purchase of (1) 15,000 Watt Generator for Well Hosue; (1) 5,600 Watt Generator for Administration; (4) 4,000 Watt Generators for cottages, (1) 2,000 Watt Generator for Administration/Maintenance.
  9. New sewer drain fields for Cottages 2 & 4.
  10. Box Gardens



  • “Unbridled Hope” Equine Assisted Therapy Program
  • Transition of Sean Stephens to Program Coordinator as Lindford Hayes has transitioned.

Council on Accreditation Site Visit

  • April 9, 2018

Promotion and Donations:

  • Strong local exposure through various news outlets and media.
  • Revelation series 8 minute documentary continues to air. (Video is available for church or group meetings)
  • Being Right the Right Way (Appreciation, Awareness and Multiple opportunities to present.)
  • YMCA Partnership renewed for 2016-17
  • Marion County Speedway
  • Easy Street
  • Kirby Farms
  • Davis Express (Tyson Chicken)
  • Borden’s Milk
  • Publix (Doing Christmas dinner & bought gifts)
  • TG Lee Milk
  • Horse Feed (Sparr Building, Tractor Supply)
  • Several churches bring in supplies monthly
  • R & L Trucking Partnership


  • Need work groups for fencing and tree debris clean up
  • Fence Repair
  • (1) 15,000 -20,000 Watt Generator for Administration Kitchen (Propane)
  • One Cottage van (12-15 Passenger).
  • (1) Administration Vehicle
  • Wholesale source for fruits and vegetables.
  • Repair and Replace doors for Administration Building ($2,000 each)


Activity Money for Christmas Break


Financial Report:

Fiscal Year Ending August 31, 2017



            Donations:                               $   222,675.02

            Contract Services                    $1,491,584.78

            Other Income                          $     58,316.73

            Total Income                           $1,772,576.53



            Employee: Sal, Taxes, Ben.     $1,130,721.98

            Program Expenses                  $  654,674.69

            Total Expenses                        $1,785,396.67

Net Income/Loss                                 ($     12,820.14)



Total Residents Served                       84

Reunifications with family                  42

Adoptive Placements                           7

Step-Down                                            4

Disruptions                                            8

Average Census                                  30


Record Census                                    34


Total Discharges                                 61

Successful Discharges                         53


86% Successful Discharges

9-17 Irma Recovery Update

I wanted to give you an update from the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch. This is our seventh day without power.   I am reminded of a point made by our General Overseer Tim Hill a few years ago.  Some battles you are not intended to win, but only survive. I doubt anyone feels particularly triumphant, but we are more than surviving. I have been so very proud of our staff from top to bottom. Everyone has stepped up being flexible and adapting to the challenges we have faced.  There have been frustrations, but just as many smiles and shining moments. Lack of electricity Long lines and 2 hour waits for gas or diesel to run generators, mechanical breakdowns were overshadowed by the resiliency on our staff and children. Thank you for your immediate response to our need for larger generator. We were able to bring water back to our cottages, administration building, and even our horses.   Churches and individuals stepped up to bring in meals for our residents.  As power was restored in the city, staff made arrangements to get our residents into various activities off-campus. Several assisted  as mentors and support letting resident stay over night. Keep us in your prayers, And, Please continue to remember The Ranch as the financial impact will be significant. Your help has already made a huge difference.

I Remember His Tears

I remember his tears. Ethen is seventeen a year-old boy who has faced over a decade of in “the system,” in over 20 placements.  With tears in his eyes, he steadied himself and starred directly at me.  He said, “You have no idea what it is like to sit in an office with people on the phone trying to find you a place to stay. Wondering if you will have a place tonight. Or, standing in front of a judge who is deciding where you will go. It is the loneliest feeling in the world. I have no one . . .”

(He collapsed with his head on his arms)

For Ethen the hope of a family or adoption has faded and now he faces becoming an adult alone. 

There is a story in the Bible of a Man in the throws of a decision. He has gone to a garden with friends to pray.  His friends are tired and sleeping, and this Man is praying alone. The Man is facing a life and death, heaven or hell decision. He is praying to God the Father, is there a way to avoid the sacrificial suffering and death that He was facing?

In the garden, He is on his knees rocking back and forth, fists clenched, heart broken and in pain.  His hair is plastered to his face, his clothes are soaked with perspiration, groaning in anguished prayer to the point of death. This Man is God. This Man is Jesus. You need to know there was an hour that even Jesus could not stand to be alone.

His options are clear, He can avoid the cross and go to heaven without you. Or, He must literally go to hell for you. On the ground in the garden that night, I believe Jesus looked to the future and saw the gapping abyss of hopelessness for humanity. He saw every child who would face the desperation of being alone.  Jesus’ decision took him to the cross.  One scripture says that He was thinking of future believers during those horrific moments.

Today we celebrate the cross and resurrection.  Jesus’ choice provides for all of us a choice today. Regardless of our pain or our past, because of the Cross; we can have hope. Ethen can choose hope! Every neglected, abandoned and abused child can have hope.  Hope begins with the story of Jesus choosing the cross for us.

Thank you for your allowing us to tell the story to hurting children. We choose hope today!!

The Hurt is this Big

Click for Video

The hurt is this big!! Not long ago I sat with a young lady named Lorie, who was describing her hurt and anger. She described a life of abandonment and abuse that culminated in rape. Tears flowed openly as she shared.  I ask, if she could describe the hurt how big would it be. Would it be this big (size of basketball) . . . or this big (size of beach ball) . . . or this big (stretching to the size of a large boulder as wide as I could reach). 

With tears pooling, Lorie stretched her arms out as wide as she could and said, “This big.”

I said,  “When your hurt is that big, it is all that you can see.  You could have a bright future full of hope and dreams, but if all you can see is this huge ball of hurt and pain, you will never see the future that God has for you. The hurt and pain then becomes the focus of your life and identity.”

We live in a world that has rejected God and the world is a dangerous and frightening place.

But God understands your hurt, He knows all about your past and what you are going through right now. 

I continued talking to Lorie, “The ball of hurt and pain may be so big you cannot hold it right now. If you will let us, together we will all work on making it smaller. It will not totally go away, but in a few weeks you will be able to see, God has a plan for you beyond all the hurt of your past.  You may not be able to see it now, but we can see it. You are incredibly strong to have survived all that you have been through.  We believe you can accomplish anything!

We will chip away at it and before long the huge boulder of pain could be the size of a basketball, then even smaller to size of a soft ball, and then as we work together to discover all the plans God has for your life. God’s love, Hope and healing will continue to chip away that huge unmanageable boulder of hurt and anger until it is as small as a pebble. You may never forget it, but it just becomes part of the path that takes you to a great future.  It is part of the road you have traveled, but does not control or define your life.”

We believe God has great plans for for every child that comes to The Heart of Florida Youth Ranch! It is an amazing to see the first sparks of hope flicker in the eyes of a child.  Every day, we are chipping away at the hurt, anger and pain. Thank you for your support and your prayers.

Love Grows Kids

Love Grows Kids!!

It has been clearly proven that a child must have loving relationships in order to grow and develop in every area of life. Children from third world orphanages where there was a lack of human interaction due to sheer numbers of children versus staff, face huge gaps in development, even being physically underdeveloped. We can actually die from rejection and isolation. Children need love to thrive!

In our training they talked a lot about relationships. Your relationship with the children opens up the door for ministry.  We talk about our witness of faith being both with words and actions. This became clear to me one evening, when a cottage parent named Ellis shared this story.

After an active day, the cottage was having a difficult night. The boys were whining and struggling to follow even simple request. Ellis and his wife decided to go ahead and send them to bed so that we could get a fresh start in the morning.

Ellis went to each room to tell the boys good night. When he got to Ethen’s room, he started talking to him about his faith and some of his own life experiences. Ellis said that he felt like what he was saying was not coming from him. Ellis said, “Honestly, this was the first time I had talked about my faith to someone before, but the words just kept coming out. I sensed God’s presence in the room as I shared my testimony with Ethen and his roommate, Larry.  I could see it in their eyes; they were listening and receiving. It was one of the most awesome moments I had ever experienced.  I wanted to have that feeling continually.” 

Moments like this give us a look into the power of “withness.”  Withness speaks of relationship. The cottage parent couple was literally living “with,” sharing their life “with,” sharing their family “with,” sharing their faith “with” our boys. As we close out 2015, I want to thank those who allow us at the HOFYR to be “with” our children. Everyday, our caregivers share their lives, their hearts, and their faith with children who have been abused, neglected and abandoned. The Ranch is that kind of place.

Your partnership makes all the difference in their world!!

Happy New Year!

Cascading Messages of Hope

Cascading Messages of Hope

Rarely is it a single traumatic event that shatters the life of the children we serve.  Most often it is a prolonged series of experiences that are overwhelming and unpredictable. These build until the wounds are deep and encompass every area of their young lives. The question was asked recently, what can ignite the spark of hope?  The answer is amazingly simple, yet challenges the caregiver’s deepest resources of love and care. At the end of the day, trusting relationships heal children. 

One can never discount the tremendous power in a simple word of encouragement. Those words from a trusted individual may bring a spark of hope and courage. Yet, it will be the caregiver, mentor, coach, pastor or friend who signs on for the long haul that has the greatest chance of influencing the life of the child. The currency of hope is trust! Trust is built when caregivers are able to provide the child with predictable patterns of consistent care, love and encouragement.

Children often come to us from a life of chaos, disrupted environments, unpredictable behaviors, and loss. Their norm is stressful vigilance. The child is always waiting for the next disruption of their lives, painfully predicting it at any moment. It is at these moments caregivers at The Heart of Florida Youth Ranch step into a child’s life. Our prayer is to let them see the love of God in us. Let us be the hands and voice of the church, speaking and touching with encouragement. Let us love them, until they can trust our love and then look through us to see the ultimate giver of life and love. Our challenge everyday is not to just provide a word or deed of hope; but let us be part of a cascade of messages of hope in everything we say and do. These cascading messages of hope become the building blocks of trust that will allow a child to develop and become all they were created to be!

Igniting Hope

At The Ranch, our work brings us into the lives of children when they are most desperate, alone, sad, afraid, wounded and hopeless. It is at this point we seek to ignite a spark of hope, healing, love and triumph. Amazingly, as we wander through the carnage of the broken lives of our children, we find the very best of Christian love, acceptance and care.

It is truly an honor to stand beside caregivers, who have accepted the challenge of igniting hope.  From the first good morning that awakens our children to a day filled with potential, until the good nights that reflect a day of progress; our caregivers are on the frontlines of providing for our children.

Recently Johnnie, a teen-age boy sat in our office completely despondent. He began to recount all of his losses: his father’s death from cancer (along with the lingering fear that he would die of cancer as well), his mother’s abandonment, and then the loss of any and everything that would make your life “normal.” Tears formed in his eyes as he silently mouthed the words, “I am alone, I have no one . . . ” 

What will it take to ignite hope and healing in Johnnie? What will it take to see love and triumph instead of anger and sadness?  It will take a valid relationship of love, acceptance and considerable encouragement. It will take time for the wounds to heal as he grows to be all that God created them to be.  So glad we can be here for him. Thank you for allowing us to say “yes” to children like Johnnie. Your help makes a difference.


Just Before I Sleep

He is almost in a rage when seventeen year-old Jared says, "It happens every night." Just as he lays down on his bed, the video trailer in his mind begins the vignettes of all that he has been through: all the abuse, all the loss . . . over a decade of trauma.  He is in tears of anger and sorrow as he continues.  "I think about those things and I get angry. The more I think the angrier I get."  After a long pause he adds, "And, I get depressed."  It was an unforgettable moment for me as I watched this young man so articulately and accurately express his pain.  He was trapped in the world of his own experiences and thoughts.  On the outside he is healthy and robust, but on the inside there are unspeakable wounds, brokenness and loss of hope. He was too frustrated to sleep and hopeless that tomorrow could be different.  At The Heart of Florida Youth Ranch "Hope Begins Here" is more than a cliché or slogan.   It is our mission and purpose. 

Everyday our goal is to chip away at the walls of solitude that children often place around themselves as a defense from the pain they have suffered.  Every child must know, "We believe in them."  We believe they are fearfully and wonderfully made. There is no such thing as a bad kid. We refuse to accept hopelessness. We constantly ask ourselves, "How can we change the images that flash through their mind just before they go to sleep?" How can we change those moments from memories of past abuse and loss to images of hope and a future?  Letting go of the past to embrace the future. Hope begins deep in our hearts.  First they must know that we believe in them, they are worth something to us and to God.

Not only are they valuable, but they have great potential.  The declaration "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" is more than words; it is truth. Those words unleash hope and potential to become all that God created them to be. It is a scary time to Jared as he looks toward his eighteenth birthday.  So many decisions, so many places for mistakes, so many opportunities for failure . . . . but also, so much potential for hope, so many opportunities for growth, so many places for success. There will be challenges . . . there will be mistakes . . . but there is hope and there is a future of potential.

It happens everyday at The Ranch, we guide children through the fog of pain and uncertainty into the reality of God's love and purpose for their life.  Thank You, for allowing us to open our arms and hearts to hurting children. This spring and summer saw record numbers of children in our care. We need your prayers and support more than ever. You gift makes a difference!

Ministering to Parents of Special Needs Children

Ministry to Families with Special Needs Children

No doubt caregivers in our residential centers deal with the extreme. For over 20 years Jo Ann and I have dealt with children who have faced the traumatic impact of the loss of parents because of death, abandonment, abuse and neglect. We have seen first hand the horrendous effect that this has on the emotional development of a child. This breakdown along with the degradation of family, community, and educational systems has created a horribly dysfunctional environment. These children come from a lonely, frightening world where their valued as a commodity. They are for sale.

Whatever a child should get in those first formative years, most of the children we work with are desperately missing. However, there are lessons we have learned from working with children that can provide help for parents and children’s ministry workers as they care for children who may not fit into the standard environment of a church youth or children’s group. One family with a child diagnosed with ADHD stated regarding church attendance, “People in the church feel they can judge when disability ends and bad parenting begins.” The families of children with emotional and/or behavioral problems often simply stop going to church. How can pastors and youth workers more effectively minister and care for these hurting families?

There are two vital aspects in dealing with a troubled child:

  1. Relationship – there will be no quick-fix. It will take someone who is unconditionally committed to the child and family for as long as it takes.
  2. The right Attitude -- There are several elements to the attitude:
  • First, you must be able to communicate that you believe the child is God’s creation, fearfully and wonderfully made; and the child can accomplish all that God created him/her to be.
  • Secondly, the child and family need to believe that you are genuinely excited about being in his/her life. Without reservation you must celebrate their presence.

TWO TIMELINE APPROACHES (Crisis Interventions and General Discipleship):

  1. When a child is in a crisis? How do you as a pastor, youth or children’s worker or parent care for a child that is in crisis? What should you consider?
  2. Ministry to the family a long-term model for seeing a hurting child develop and grow emotionally and spiritually?

Here are some basic things to consider anytime you are working with a troubled child:

  • Be nonthreatening, receptive, respecting the child and their space.
  • Facial expression – smiling, pleasant, relaxed.
  • Body language – relaxed (not tense), non threatening;
  • Tone, Voice, Cadence – How you say what you say!! (A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger. Proverbs 15:1)

From your facial expression, body language, the tone and intensity of your voice you are all sending a message. How you say what you say is as important as what you say!!

Ministers can begin to understand the child by examining the factors that may precipitate behavior episodes. (Things like crowds, being single out in a group, a certain subject). THE BEHAVIOR MAKES SENSE WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND THE STORY!!

You can learn how to deal with a child who is escalating verbally. The above things are skills that can be learned and practiced.

We should also consider the overarching theme of General Discipleship. The caregivers relationship and attitude should send a message of HOPE to a child/youth who may feel hopeless!! Imagine a troubled child who does not truly understand the things going on around them. They know something is not right. When they lay down at night just before they go to sleep the memories of yesterday and fear of tomorrow play a rolodex of anxiety and uncertainty.

Here are the 5 steps we have used successfully for several years to minister to troubled youth and their families.

  1. Identify the ROOT CAUSES of the behavior. Every behavior has a purpose and a root cause. Every behavior is telling something. There are two very real enemies of humanity and especially children:
    1. FEAR – From that first moment Adam hid from the presence of God in the Garden, FEAR has been humanities greatest enemy. Fear of the unknown, the future, failure, death, illness, and many other issues cause children and youth to lock-up emotionally.
    2. ANGER – Many children have experienced some type of developmental insult. There has been some kind of wound to their soul/mind area. The injury has blocked normal emotional development (abuse, neglect, abandonment, death, serious illness, family issues, generational issues).
  2. Respond according to the scriptures:
    1. FEAR – The child will need loving parental instruction and guidance. Reproof in the original language was concerned as much as about providing the right direction as it was about pointing out the wrong. Too many adults only respond with pointing out the wrong.
    2. ANGER – For the wounded child the first response must always be comfort and encouragement. “Parakaleo” is the original word for exhort or encourage. It is a miracle word. It speaks of brining into existence something that was previously not there. It calls something from another world into this present world inside the child. You can literally see courage rise in in their eyes (en-courage).
  3. Teach and disciple the child in the principles of the scripture. Look for those precious teachable moments. We are teaching them a better way to live in everything we say and do. Teach them how to release things in their past that may have traumatized them. It will be a new way of thinking and behaving. Teach them how to forgive those who have hurt them. Amazingly, there is a great deal of instruction that deals with forgiveness, but precious little that will provide a model or formula for forgiveness.
  4. Practice -- give the child a chance to be successful. Look for and create ways for the child to succeed. Give them a chance to try out their new behaviors and skills in an environment where there is a high probability of success. Look for easy wins and then repeat the process. Encourage, assist, and become the child’s biggest cheerleader. Remember, it will take multiple opportunities for good habits to be established. Just like a HOUSE with a shifting foundation; these kids lack a solid foundation. With each repetition of a new skill or principle you are laying bricks in their foundation. Every word of encouragement is a seed sown. From the moment a child gets up until they go to bed, they need multiple opportunities for success.
  5. Praise -- REMEMBER, we are attacking hopelessness. Hope is the fuel that drives success. We need to celebrate the very fact they walked into the room. Plan a celebration for goals accomplished. When the child sees that you believe in them it will change them dramatically. Create the moments for trophies, pictures, great moments, get that scrapbook of success started. God has new mercies for every morning! Today does not have to be like yesterday.

We can change the Rolodex that a child plays in their mind at night. From fear and hurt to a future filled with hope. At the end of the day we must believe that God can use our words and actions to heal a child. It is a spiritual decision.

John Sweet


A Night with the Boys . . .

Thought you might like to read an excerpt from a shift report from our Clinical Director Josh Sarmiento:

Also  spoke to group for about 30 minutes.  Those kids need a father figure mentor, and role model. I am up for the challenge and that calling!   I will be trying to go and see them at least 2 times weekly before bed and give them some family time and meetings in the future.    XXXX talked to me for about 30 minutes.  He is afraid of the future and ask me " will you be leaving me? I have had many workers that I open up to, and they leave me"  I told  him the only way I would leave him, if  if the Good man took me to be with Him, and that he should continue to make choices to enhance his relationship with staff and everyone here that is wanting to work with him. He wants to work, I think we need to see if he can get a job that will allow him to work more hours. ( "idle  mind & hands is/are the devils workshop")   Hopefully he can pass his GED!

Spoke to XXXX for about 20  minutes and he gave me a hug on way out.

Spoke to XXXX as well they are excited about "wrastling"  ( : 

XXXXXX had a bit of a bump on the road tonight.  I came out of the room and he said Mr. Josh " you want me to go into my room, I said " yes"  He ask me to walk him into his room as he starts picking up clothes from floor.  I spoke to him and his brother, and then they asked me to pray for them in their room... tear!!  So I prayed that the peace that surpasses all understanding would fill that room. 

I would like to know where their game is on Saturday I would like to go. ( :  They invited me and I would like to cheer them on.

XXXX and XXXXX gave me forms  for wrestling that need filled out and they need 70 dollars each I believe to wrastle' ( :

Hopefully it goes well. I think with more consistent counseling and groups along with prayer we can getter done!

Zach stated XXXXX was a bit scared tonight and he said he went by and  checked cottage to make sure coast was clear etc and all was well. 

Good night and God Bless! Thanks for allowing me to be a part of the team!

I leave you with a poem that inspires me whenever I have an opportunity to teach a child even in failure and mess ups; as I remember God can take my "mess-terdays and give me better tomorrows".  I think when we answer this question in our own lives daily then we can be better able to answer the question and help  the little boy/little girl answer that question as well.   

Who will cry for the little boy?
By Antwone Fisher

who will cry for the little boy?
Lost and all alone.
Who will cry for the little boy?
Abandoned without his own?

Who will cry for the little boy?
He cried himself to sleep.
Who will cry for the little boy?
He never had for keeps.

Who will cry for the little boy?
He walked the burning sand
Who will cry for the little boy?
The boy inside the man.

Who will cry for the little boy?
Who knows well hurt and pain
Who will cry for the little boy?
He died again and again.

Who will cry for the little boy?
A good boy he tried to be
Who will cry for the little boy?
Who cries inside of me?