After years of planning and dreaming, the South Walton Boys & Girls Club opened the doors of its new, 33,500 square-foot building in Santa Rosa Beach.

"It's incredible — for the kids that have been with us since the trailers on 30A to the trailers on this property," said Shervin Rassa, chief executive officer for Boy & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast. "Magical is the best word to describe it."

While the club has been operating out of its new building since September, the grand opening was postponed to April 22 when the parking lot and landscaping would be complete.

The South Walton Club was decorated specially for the opening with the sidewalk covered in chalk doodles and blue and white balloons inside. TV monitors displayed slideshows of photos taken at the club, displaying all that the organization offers to children. Right now the club has 166 members, but with the expansion, more than 200 memberships can be accommodated.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Emerald Coast provide after school and summer programs for young people between the ages of 5-18 years. The club's mission is to  "inspire and empower all young people to achieve their full potential."

Boys and girls of the club participated in the opening, greeting visitors at the door and giving private tours of the new facility.

After some mingling, guests were led outside for the official ribbon cutting. John Kelly, Walton County Chamber of Commerce board member, presented Rassa with a certificate documenting the event. Todd Wilkinson, Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast board of director’s chairmen, did the honor of cutting the ribbon.

Inside the club's gymnasium, a few speakers took to the podium to commemorate the special occasion that has taken more than 10 years of planning, fundraising and building to come to fruition.

"We built this for you," Wilkinson said, pointing to a group of children huddled together.

"The amazing thing is that even when we didn't have the space, the kids still came," Wilkinson added. "The programming and the staff — that is what makes this organization so special."

Billie Gaffrey, art teacher at Seaside Neighborhood School, donated colorful murals to the club, vowing to volunteer time to teach art at the club. Wendy Mignot, jewelry designer and owner of La Vie Est Belle, along with Brandey Barton and Margie Zeitlin, came bearing gifts as well with a $10,000 check to use towards implementing an anti-bullying program at the South Walton Club. Mignot created a special necklace and hosted a fundraiser at her store for the club.

Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows was also at the opening. She took a tour of the building and said a few words at the podium noting that the "investment that the Boys & Girls Club makes to our community is priceless."

With numerous programs, dedicated staff and nearly 30 times the space compared to its previous location, the South Walton Boys & Girls Club is more than ready to fulfill its mission.

"We want our kids to be humble, productive, caring, responsible citizens of our great country," Rassa said. "We hope to be busting at the seams with new memberships."


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