Sheriff Walter Dillinger urges residents of Fulton County to join him and other Arkansas sheriffs in their work to help the state's abused, neglected and abandoned children by supporting the Arkansas Sheriffs' Youth Ranches.
"The Ranches have a 29-year history of providing homes for young people who have nowhere else to go," Dillinger said.
Founded by Arkansas' 75 sheriffs in 1976, the Ranches have been a home for more than 400 children and literally touched the lives of thousands more through its statewide referral network and outreach services. Last year alone, at least 2,200 children from across the state were served through its programs.
"For many children, the Sheriffs' Youth Ranches are the first home they have actually ever really known," said Mike cumnock, CEO of Ranches since 1995, "And that's home with a big H."
"Many people have a misconception about the Youth Ranches," Cumnock continued. "We are not a reform school or a correctional facility. The Ranches are simply homes where needy children can live permanently, in a safe and loving environment with people who not only care for them, but about them."
Children live in cottages with house parents as a family unit. Families share meals and household chores. They participate in family activities - such as watching television, shopping, eating out, fishing or swimming, The individual households generally attend church together,
Residents who graduate high school are required to be involved in an education or training program and may remain in the Youth Ranch program throughout post-secondary education and/or vocational training, with some residents living on campus in independent living situations.
"We know we are making a difference in the lives of kids." Cumnock said. "The involvement of the sheriffs in the Youth Ranches makes perfect sense. They are often the first to become aware of families in crisis and are in constant contact with children who are continually falling through the cracks. Often, these at-risk children are simply thrown away. If we don't take a stand to help them now, we may eventually be forced to deal with a troubled adult criminal."
That's where the Youth Ranches come in. The organization hopes to break the cycle of abuse and neglect and offer these children a opportunity to become productive adults in their community.
The Ranches currently have three occupied campuses - the 528-acre flagship campus at Batesville (Independence County), a smaller 93-acre campus near Hardy, and a campus at DeGray Lake. A fourth campus, the Donald W. Reynolds Campus, is located in Crawford County, near Alma. A fifth, undeveloped site, located in northwest Arkansas near Harrison, donated by former American Freightways owner Sheridan Garrison in March of 2002, is currently being used as a recreation campus for residents and staff.
"The idea of regional campuses will certainly enhance the Youth Ranches' ability to better meet the needs of Arkansas' at-risk children by making services available to them close to their home community," Sheriff Dillinger said.
In addition to its residential service--which includes a horseback riding program and a wilderness therapy program--and its referral network, the Youth Ranches sponsors two Court Appointed Special Advocate programs, a child abuse prevention/education program and a speakers' bureau.
Fulton County residents can join Dillinger in supporting the Youth Ranches' mission by becoming honorary members of the Arkansas Sheriffs' Association Youth Ranches. Sheriffs around the state are currently involved in a campaign to solicit new members--to help the Ranches expand its services to reach more children. The youth Ranches receives more than 95 percent of its funding through the generosity of individual contributors.
"Donations in any amount go a long way to help these children in need," said Cumnock. Arkansas Sheriffs' Association Youth Ranches honorary memberships will be acknowledged for individual donations of $25 or more, and honorary business memberships of $30 or more. Corporate memberships are available for $100." he added.
All money goes directly to support the Arkansas Sheriffs' Youth Ranches and is tax deductible.
Anyone who has not received a letter asking them to join may obtain membership or receive additional information by sending their name, address and membership fee to the Arkansas Sheriffs' Youth Ranches, Post Office Box 3964, Batesville, AR 72503. Sheriff Dillinger also has membership information at the sheriff's office. The web site address for the Youth Ranches is www.sheriffsranch.com.