After years of operating in cramped quarters, the South Walton Boys & Girls Club has finished construction on their new building that provides nearly 30 times more space.
Since about 2007, the South Walton Boys & Girls Club has been running out three standalone trailers equaling about 1,500 square-feet. Before that, they operated on 30A by Topsail Park. With an average of 60-65 kids, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, it's been difficult to create activities and programs for the kids to enjoy.
"Space was a huge need," said program director Kim Banks. "Especially outdoor space, so kids can be physically active."
Now, with eight and a half acres, there's more than enough room for sports and outdoor activities. The club is working with Walton County and sharing the outdoor space in exchange for maintenance.
The 33,500 square-foot building has more than enough room for the current local membership — and then some. In the past, the South Walton Club has had to turn away some memberships because of spacing. With two full-size basketball courts, a computer lab, a cafe and several multipurpose rooms, a brand-new 77 passenger bus and, something they haven't had before, an office for employees, the local chapter will have the space needed for their goal of 200 memberships and upwards.
The club won't be moving very far since construction has taken place right behind the club's current location on Greenway Trail. But even just a few steps away, it feels like another world.
"It's a far cry from the trailers," said Shervin Rassa, CEO of Boys & Girls Club of Emerald Coast.
The building has been in the planning stages for the past five years and was originally scheduled to open in June, however some construction days were lost due to rain.
Finishing up the parking lot and emptying the trailers is next on the agenda before a grand opening in the fall.
Much of the funds used to build came from donations. While Boys & Girls Club memberships cost $85-$30 a month depending on a child's age, it only covers a small fraction of operating costs. In many cases, the club pays the fees.
“Seventy-three percent of fees we come up with through foundations," explained area and club director Stephanie Rhoden. "Children need to be here, it's a service to our kids. We provide them with a safe place to come after school. It's a home away from home."
Children up to the age of 18 are welcome to the club with the mission to "inspire and empower all young people to achieve their full potential."
"Every child is at need," said Rhoden.
"Boys & Girls Clubs provide youth with academic success skills, healthy lifestyles mechanisms and good character and citizenship traits," added Rass. "Through relationships with caring adults, our clubs are able to impact the lives’ of the young people we serve, provide them with hope and give our youth opportunities to mature into caring, responsible, and productive citizens within their respective communities."
Generosity is a form of currency for nonprofit organizations like Boys & Girls Club.
"Boys & Girls Clubs are community sustained units, and fiscal support from community donors is key to our sustainability and impact, through the generosity of several donors to include the Dugas Family Foundation and Pennington Foundation, our new South Walton Club has come to fruition," Rassa said.
Now that construction is over, moving day can't come soon enough for the South Walton Club employees.
"I'm just overwhelmed — actually I'm just really excited," said Banks. "I'm looking forward to experiencing the look on the kid's faces when they see the building. I think it will provide a sense of ownership."
Want more info? Donations of time and money are accepted at Boys & Girls Club. For more information, visit www.bgcec.com. Stay tuned for a future grand opening in the fall.