Five young girls sitting around a table outside sharing a Happy Meal.

Youngsters in a Georgia Sheriff’s Youth Home share a Happy Meal.

For more than 60 years, Georgia youngsters who have been abandoned, neglected or abused have been given a second chance at family life through the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes. Raised in a family setting in five campuses across the state, these young people grow up in a safe environment to rebuild their lives.

This year the Lake Lanier Holiday Boat Light Parade once again will raise funds for the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes.

“We’re not a temporary solution or a part-time placement; we are actually given custody of these young people and are responsible for their every need to help them realize their full potential,” said Mike Leathers, development officer with the organization. “Our houseparents take them to doctors’ appointments, after-school activities, help them with their homework and give them all the love and support as though they were their own children.”

Through the love and support freely available at the youth homes, the children who come to live there are able to realize their dreams away from the stress, angst and uncertainty of their early lives.

“Our former residents have gone on to successful careers and are raising families of their own. They are all good kids who were just in untenable situations before coming here,” he says. “You know, we have a 100 percent graduation rate among our residents and if they decide to go to college or beyond, we support them financially and otherwise just like you would your own child. Our kids who go to college graduate debt free so they can begin their adult lives without that additional burden.”

Leathers tells of one then-12-year-old youngster who in his early teens dreamed of becoming a physician; he’s now in a thriving medical practice.

“We encouraged his dream and raised the funds to pay for medical school,” Leathers said. “He’s just one example of how the children and teens who come to us can make their aspirations a reality.”

The website at is filled with testimonials by former residents who came to the youth homes where they became part of a new lifelong family.

For the past five years, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes has been the beneficiary of the Lake Lanier Holiday Light Boat Parade. Parade organizer Richard Pickering has a special place in his heart for the organization, and he is a program coordinator with the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes.

“What the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes do to give children and youth a second chance at life is more than amazing,” Pickering said. “They have gone from unimaginable circumstances into a loving, nurturing, positive family life that helps them realize their potential and become responsible and caring adults.”

The Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes have five campuses in Georgia: Boys Ranch, Hahira; Cherokee Estate, Dalton; Herrington Homestead, Swainsboro; Mountainview, Chatsworth; and Pineland/Camp Pioneer, LaGrange.

For more information, to register for the Holiday Boat Light Parade or make a donation to the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes, visit the website at


Holiday Light Boat Parade

When: Saturday, Dec. 10 (Rain date: Sunday, Dec. 11)

Route: Boats meet north of Port Royale Marina at 5:45 and progress down the channel past Pelican Pete’s then over to Aqualand’s gas docks then to Margaritaville by 7:45 or 8 p.m.

Information/Registration: Facebook – 2022 Holiday Boat Light Parade or

Photo: courtesy GSY