The Villages Voice - November 2016

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A Second Chance

by Josh Blackmon, Grants/Staff Writer

A Second Chance

  The beginning of Josh’s story is like that of so many of the young people we serve.  He and his sister were being raised by a single mother in Miami who was working diligently to make ends meet.  However, while his mother was hard at work, Josh’s grades began a steady decline, his disobedience reached a peak, and his relationship with his mother and sister hit rock bottom.  Josh found himself roaming the streets and tangled up with a bad crowd.  Academically, Josh’s troubles became most evident when he failed his seventh-grade year.   Josh and his family were at their wits’ end when someone suggested the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. He soon found himself at the Youth Ranch Bradenton-Sarasota campus. “It was voluntary, but I really didn’t want to be there,” the now 24-year-old man admitted, recalling his feelings when he first came to the Ranch as a child.  “I felt really alone—like I didn’t belong.”   Josh was born in New York and raised in Miami, so the shift from big cities to the smaller community of Bradenton was difficult at first.  “It was a very different environment,” Josh recalled.  “I was upset.” Without the hustle and bustle of city life and the distractions he had left behind, Josh suddenly found himself with the opportunity to think with a clear head.  “I started doing a lot of reflection,” he explained.  “And I realized I had a lot of things to work on.”   Not only did the staff begin to teach him life and social skills, they helped him get back on track academically.  “The staff is so dedicated,” Josh said.  “They helped me learn how to stay focused.”  He began to excel academically. Earning the Student of the Year Award is an accomplishment Josh is proud of to this day.   After spending more than three years at the Ranch, Josh was ready to go home to his mother and sister.  The lessons he learned at the Ranch were never far from his mind or his heart.  “The Ranch really taught me how to handle things, mentally and emotionally,” he said.  “They taught me how to overcome adversity.”   After leaving  the Ranch, Josh’s relationship with his family has also grown stronger, and he values it more deeply than before.  He and his mother are closer than ever.  His sister, whom he used to constantly fight with, now shares an incredibly tight bond.  “Before, she was just a sibling,” Josh adds.  “Now, she’s my sister.”   Through the Ranch mentor and scholarship program, Josh was able to stay on track.  He recently graduated from the University of Tampa with his bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations.  “The Youth Ranch has been with me every step of the way,” Josh says with sincerity.  “They are a second family.”   With the help of the Ranch and staff, Josh not only pursued his education; he has a career in banking.  He began working part-time as a teller, and JP Morgan Chase offered him a full-time position after his graduation.  He now has a career development path with the bank.  His plan is to become a relationship banker and work with small businesses in the Tampa Bay area.  “I love helping clients and developing relationships.”  Josh beams with excitement over his career and future. His desire to help doesn’t just end at work.  Josh has also been volunteering his time with local charities, including Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa.  “I just want to be the best that I can be,” he says with purpose.  “I want to do more for the community. I want to give back.”   Josh definitely recognizes that he has been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to set things in the right direction all those years ago, and to receive the continued support of the Ranch.  “Growing up is sometimes easier said than done,” he says.  “If you work with the Ranch, they will work with you.  I feel really blessed to be where I am.  I got a second shot.  I’m fortunate.”   Josh Blackmon, Grants/Staff Writer Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, Inc.