This year, the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches are doing things differently. They are bringing youth motivational programs directly to the communities.
Called "Takin' It To The Streets," the mobile camping program, funded by the Florida Sheriffs Association, travels throughout communities, usually staying a week in each community and then moving on to the next site.
The mobile camp recently spent two weeks at Hunter Douglas Park in Middleburg's Hilltop community off Blanding Boulevard and Foreman Circle.
Maude Jackson, a community advocate, pushed for the mobile camp to come to the Hilltop area because the children in her area needed a lot of support.
"I wanted the children to look forward to coming to summer camp," said Jackson, who runs a year-round program at the park that offers senior citizen services, tutorial services for students and a summer program for the community's youth. "The number of children here is not as high as we thought it would be but I know that once word spreads there will be a lot more next summer."
The mobile camping program has room for about 60 boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 15. Participants must live in the area, they must have parental permission and be able to exhibit socially acceptable behavior.
The mobile camp volunteers, which range from school teachers to sheriff's deputies, bring with them equipment such as basketballs, arts and crafts supplies, hula hoops and TVs and VCRs for presentations.
The camp and its volunteers try to teach the children respect, allow them to be able to express themselves and also to teach them that law officers are their friends.
According to David Kritzmacher, development officer for the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, the program aims to teach children teamwork skills, conflict resolution, appreciation of cultural diversity and how to build and maintain a high self-esteem.
"Having a program like this can turn around a community," said Kritzmacher. "We've seen it happen and we know this program works."
Recently, Hunter Douglas Park and the mobile camp program had an open house, letting the public see for itself exactly what the children do on a daily basis.
Carol Studdard, chairwoman of the Clay County School Board, said the program will be one of great benefit to the Hilltop community because it is teaching the children respect and kindness.
"I was delighted by the children," Studdard said during the open house. …