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The Villages
Sunday, April 14, 2024

Villagers team up to replace items lost in fire at Heart of Florida Youth Ranch

When a fire severely damaged one of four cottages at the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch last Mother’s Day, 11 young boys who had called the building home and had very little before the fire now had even less.

Many are orphans or in the foster care program, with ages ranging from five to 14. They had been placed at the Ranch because they have “suffered loss of parenting due to abandonment, abuse, neglect or death.”

Pattie Barrett, left, and Fern DeLaCroix plan their next fundraising initiatives for the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch.

To make the tragedy even worse, the hazardous conditions resulting from the significant smoke and water damage mandated that the kids’ remaining toys and some of their belongings be trashed.

“The fire had started in the water heater in the houseparents’ portion of the building,” said Fern DeLaCroix, a resident of the Village of Bonita. “So the couple and their two children lost all their clothes, personal belongings and even the purchases that were earmarked for the birth of their third child. They only had minimal insurance.”

In response to their plight, DeLaCroix and her neighbor, Pattie Barrett, organized a fundraising initiative asking Villagers to clean out their attics and make a donation.

“We had just completed a fundraising effort last April for three teenage girls who arrived at the Ranch with nothing – no clothes – nothing,” said Barrett. “Then the fire broke in May and we started all over again.”

This bedroom features all new furniture and accessories, thanks to generous donations from Villagers.

The duo scoured church rummage sales and estate sales for unwanted items. DeLaCroix donated the fees from teaching Zumba classes and Barrett handcrafted towels and linens with various superhero emblems to be given to the youngsters. And they asked their friends and neighbors in the Eurekan-Centerville-McDuffie Social Club for help.

They requested items like living room and bedroom furniture, bunk beds, clothing and toys for the kids, as well as everything necessary for the house parents to start all over again.

“The response of Villagers continues to be overwhelming,” DeLaCroix said. “We provided nearly everything not covered by insurance that was on their wish list. We replaced couches and loveseats in other cottages and also delivered six large ceiling fans for the older boys’ cottages, which previously had none. We needed a 20-foot truck, two SUVs, two pickup trucks and a utility trailer to transport everything to the Ranch.”

Pattie Barrett, left, and Fern DeLaCroix begin refurbishing one of the bedrooms in the previously damaged cottage.

DeLaCroix and Barrett, who also raised $1,300 in cash, emphasized that the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch, located in Citra, differs from the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch that serves children in the juvenile justice system.

Many of the 45 children at the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch remain at the facility from six to 12 months, while some have been there for many years. They are hoping to be adopted, placed in a more permanent foster home, or are waiting for an incarcerated parent to be released and able to resume custody.

DeLaCroix and Barrett said the Ranch continues to need furniture – especially chest of drawers – kitchen utensils, clothing and toys.

“Villagers’ grandchildren have rooms full of toys. These kids at the Ranch are lucky if they have one toy,” Barrett said. “The Ranch could use anything that donors would consider donating to a collection center.”

The centralized living room is filled with the teenagers’ favorite beanbag chairs.

Those wishing to donate items can contact Barrett at pabarrett@aol.com or DeLaCroix at fernhd@live.com.

“We can make arrangements for the Ranch staff to directly pick up their
furniture,” Barrett added. “Also, store gift cards, which could buy birthday gifts, would be greatly appreciated.”

For more information about the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch, along with pictures of the children, visit HOFYR.org.

“We can’t express how very thankful the children are for all that our donors have given them,” DeLaCroix said. “This includes giving them hope in seeing how good people step up when bad things happen.”

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