Florida Rancher Rancher Fall 2017 : Page 3

learned of Melissa’s situation they contacted the Youth Ranches and asked if there was any way we could help this little girl. My first meeting with Melissa occurred in a shelter where she was living temporarily. The little girl sitting before me with long stringy blond hair had a look of wariness and it was obvious that trusting others was not easy. The first words she uttered were, “do you have a smoke on you? I really would do anything right now for a cigarette.” At that moment I knew this little girl had seen the world without the rose colored glasses of childhood innocence, but through the lenses of cruelty having been used as barter for drugs and alcohol. She may have been 11, but her worldly age was closer to 30. How could we help this child who was no longer a little girl, but a wary, cynical adult living in a child’s body? I admit that I struggled and prayed for wisdom and guidance because what I witnessed was someone beyond our ability to help. Sometimes however, the answer is right in front of you and for me it was our upcoming summer camp program. I thought that if I could get Melissa around other kids, caring staff and deputies we might find the child hidden within that 11 year old body. The family court Judge agreed with me to keep Melissa in the shelter for the two weeks prior to camp starting. This was to keep her safe and to allow me time to visit her daily and talk. Our talks in the first few days were heartbreaking as she begged, and even propositioned me, for cigarettes and more. When she was finally released, she was taken by me and a deputy who knew her well to summer camp. Melissa was one of many troubled youth that summer, some being assessed for admission to our residential programs, but she was by far the toughest in the group of girls and boys attending. She struggled for the first few days, but as the session went along with all of the activities and interactions with counselors and deputies, Melissa began to realize that there were adults in this world who would care for her without wanting anything in return. She began to laugh and join in as camp songs were sung and skits were performed. She formed several relationships with other kids, including a little boy who had gone to her school who also was looking for a fresh start and a new home. He too had been dealt a rough hand in life and needed to be somewhere else other than his current living environment. By the end of the session, all of us at camp witnessed a miracle as a little girl named Melissa emerged and I knew that we could help this child. More importantly she wanted our help and asked if she could go to live at the Youth Villa. The answer of course was “YES”! When we returned to her community, all the necessary paperwork was completed and a time was set for the following week for Melissa to begin her new life at the Youth Villa. The mother who had been released from jail awaiting trial asked for and received permission from the court to have Melissa home for the weekend. She said she wanted the weekend to say goodbye. I never saw Melissa again! Her mother took Melissa and fled, to where remains unknown. Every year people vanish, and in the summer of 1986 a little 11 year old girl named Melissa became another statistic. However she is not a statistic to me as I think of Melissa often, she is my “WHY!” Thank you for supporting us with donations and gifts which allow us to provide safe and loving homes, summer camps, educational leadership programming and more. It still brings me to tears when thinking about having lost Melissa, but it drives me and others to continue helping as many children as we can. God bless, President THE RANCHER  FALL 2017  3

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