HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A program that helped many at-risk kids in Florida turns their lives around is in financial jeopardy, but two familiar faces in Tampa Bay are working to try to keep the funding in place.
- Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches is in financial jeopardy
- Program served as a refuge for troubled teens
- WWE Wrestler "Titus O'Neil" plans to reach out to Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches served as a refuge for troubled teens, helping them to reboot their lives. The ranches allow teens to live away from home under the watchful eye of trained adults.
“People there invested in me when they had nothing to gain in return,” said Thaddeus Bullard, a professional wrestler and philanthropist. “And so every single day, it's not an obligation to me. I don't look at this as an obligation when I give back to the community.”
Bullard, known to millions of WWE fans as "Titus O’Neil" spent time at a youth ranch when he was a wayward teenager. The program helped him transition from a violent, short-tempered young man into an athlete who became the first in his family to graduate from high school and college.
“To know that financially those institutions are about to be impacted, especially when it's near and dear to me, it's really disturbing,” said Bullard.
It also disturbs Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
“Our children depend on this,” said Chronister. “Our children depend on us to protect them, to guide them, to give them every opportunity they should be afforded in life and that's what the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches do.”
Chronister recently wrote an editorial calling attention to the Family First Prevention Services Act, emphasizing how it would move money away from group homes and shift the funds toward foster care programs. He reached out to Sen. Rick Scott to discuss fixing this issue.
“If you take the funding away, the people that are going to be hurt the most, the people that are going to suffer the most, are our children,” he said.
Bullard, meanwhile, plans to reach out to Gov. Ron DeSantis to ensure the funding for the youth ranches stays in place.
“Hopefully with the efforts of many, we can make positive change and continue to keep the doors open,” Bullard said.