published: Sunday, January 20, 2013
Closing Last Chance Ranch short-sighted and wrong
We mourn the closing of AMIkids Last Chance Ranch in Venus. The Department of Juvenile Justice did not renew its contract with the special school for troubled boys, so it closed at the end of 2012.
It seems an extremely short-sighted decision, especially when so many boys are at risk or have criminal records before they can shave.
The tragedy of this decision is made worse because the ranch is not the only facility of its kind to face draconian funding cuts. Well respected Avon Park Youth Academy lived through a painful 2012.
Maybe these funding choices come about because the people doing the choosing, and recommending the choices, see only short-term dollars and cents. They can do this because of a deliberate disconnect between the abstract and the concrete.
If The School Board of Highlands County is any guide -- teachers are referred to as "units" in the budget -- bureaucrats tend to turn real people in real life situations into impersonal, countable beans.
But real people are involved. So is the community.
Take the five teenagers taken into custody last week here in Avon Park. Five kids breaking bad -- the youngest only 15 years old, the oldest 17.
They are accused of breaking into a home and stealing property from inside. The police think they may be tied to other burglaries. One of the 16-year-olds received an additional charge of violating probation.
Another boy, however, is known to a member of our staff. The staff member's son played football with him when they were younger. "He was such a sweet kid," this individual said.
Don't mistake this as a mushy plea to coddle delinquents.
The point is, if any kid might be turned around, this is one kid who could. Perhaps even the other four. Now there is less of a chance any of them will get the opportunity.
For more than 30 years, non-profit AMIkids ran the Last Chance program, graduating more than 750 young men.
Located on a 40-acre site 15 miles from the nearest state road, and another 20 miles from the nearest town, the Last Chance Ranch did not need bars, handcuffs or cells.
The staff and students built the dormitories, a dining hall, general education and vocational classrooms, a barn and storage sheds -- turning an empty wilderness of swampy land into a working ranch. They raised cattle, pigs, tended horses, and grew corn, peas, cucumbers and other crops.
With a small, but hardened, population, typically 22 to 25 students at a time, staff and teachers were able to give each individual close attention. Graduation rates were high; recidivism rates were low.
We understand that money is still scarce, and that the many other agencies and departments have had to cut expenses too.
We understand why people might resent a lot of money going to care for a handful of trouble makers, while the vast majority of our well-behaved children in public schools are doing without.
In the long run, however, we believe every teen whose life is turned around is a bar fight avoided, a robbery that didn't happen, a drug dealer who never took to the streets. A kid turned around is a fulfilled human being who gives back to the community. A long-term investment, with generations of reward.
Last Chance Ranch (by: Janet Hardy - 1/21/2013)
This is such a shame. Teenagers are not known for having good judgment, and some do not have the wisdom and guidance of loving parents.
AM/KIDS RANCH (by: Bill Long - 1/20/2013)
GOD SUNDAY MORNING MY FRIENDS..SEBRING A OVERCAST 63F NOW AND GOING TO 77F TODAY.."We have several GOOD People out here that work at making this a better World, and that is very Special." "THANK YOU FOR BEING ONE OF THEM"
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