Law Enforcement Division Director Art F. May told Historic City News that he was recently honored for 30 years of service during an annual encampment and open house held at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Live Oak.
Over the past three decades, May has seen the two-day weekend open house for alumni and parents of boys who reside there, grow to a week-long ranching competition and outdoor camping event — attended this year by close to 2000 people.
“Nearly 1000 horses compete in events from Friday through late Sunday,” May told Editor Michael Gold. “Thousands of people show up to camp for free in the pines and on the hill.”
Since the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office is so small, May, along with others representing the St. Johns and Clay County sheriffs, has volunteered to provide security for the Youth Ranch — it has become quite a job, according to May.
“Attendees start showing up on Tuesday to wait in line for the gates to open Wednesday morning,” May said. “If we weren’t there, they would come even earlier.”
May also told Historic City News his opinion of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch, “To me, it is the most worthwhile charity I have experienced.”
May began his career with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office before he was old enough to carry a gun, joining and becoming a leader in Sheriff’s Explorer Post 911 when he was still a teenager. Gold knew May then, and he has watched May’s career over the years — noting that May has always been focused on the important role law enforcement plays in keeping young people from winding up in trouble.
“The boys I once would see now have teenagers of their own who attend,” May said. “It is tremendous to see the change in the boys from when they first arrive and learn discipline and hard work on the ranch, but get tons of love and attention in return.”
Life on the ranch is a strong dose of reality for many teens; some of whom have never had to take responsibility for their actions. “Many come to the ranch two school grades behind and the staff works with them to get them caught up.”
The program works, according to May. First known as the “Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch”, through private donations and grants, the non-profit organization expanded to provide a similar, safe and caring environment for girls; renaming the program the “Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches”.
There are five similar sites to the ranch in Live Oak; including an all-girls Villa and a few co-ed sites that keeps brothers and sisters together.
May told us, “Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches help many go on to college and large numbers of ranchers go on to the military, law enforcement or become paramedics and give back to the community.”
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph by SJSO