'Dream come true': Youth Village celebrates 22 years with ribbon cutting at new location

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — It’s been 22 years since Youth Village first opened its doors in Niceville as an after-school program and summer camp for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. 

As the nonprofit organization continued to grow, administrators found a new location at a 3,000-square-foot building in Fort Walton Beach. But the location wasn’t big enough to expand on CEO and founder Nellie Bogar’s dream of reaching younger children. 

The search was long, but Youth Village found its new home at 644 Anchors St. N.W. in Fort Walton Beach last year. The COVID-19 pandemic put many hitches in opening, and the organization got a late start in the 2020-21 school year. 

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Nellie Bogar and Valerie Bogar, both at center, react after cutting the ribbon for the new Youth Village building on Anchors Street in Fort Walton Beach. Nellie is the founder and CEO, and her daughter Valerie is the director.

Youth Village graduated 10 children from its first group of the voluntary pre-kindergarten program June 8. Now the nonprofit is finally getting to celebrate the official opening of its new home and 22 years of service as the 2021-22 school year is underway. 

“I’ve seen Youth Village adapt and overcome, recover and have the attitude that you never lose if you learn from it,” said Youth Village Chairman Alton “Rob” Houston. “Every time Youth Village had an obstacle in front of them, like trying to get through this building, our creator found another way to open another door for us.” 

Nellie Bogar and her daughter, Valerie, who serves as the director of the nonprofit, were joined by the Fort Walton Beach and Destin chambers of commerce and many other local officials to celebrate with a ribbon-cutting Tuesday morning. 

“We weren’t here for a whole school year before, so it was kind of like when restaurants do a soft opening,” Valerie Bogar said. “We haven’t really sat back and been like, ‘Wow look at this.’ We haven’t really sat down and looked at how our dreams impacted other people and helped both the children, the families and the staff.”

The new building is a little more than 5,000 square feet and can hold about 110 children with four preschool classrooms and two school-aged rooms. Valerie Bogar said they so far have been able to take in about 50 children between the preschool academy and voluntary pre-kindergarten education programs. 

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Nellie Bogar said several people have had to be put on a waiting list as the nonprofit continues to search for qualified teachers. Like many businesses and organizations, she said they face a staffing shortage because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our goal is to open all the rooms,” Valerie Bogar said. “We’re not worried about getting children. It’s just getting all the staff. So once we have a teacher, we can fill those rooms. A lot of parents are really struggling finding somewhere. They’re saying it’s full everywhere.” 

About 90% of the children come from low-income single-parent households, and the Emerald Coast Early Learning Coalition often helps cover the cost of the program for parents who cannot afford it. Houston likened the program to the nonprofit’s logo of a tree with children playing around it. 

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Youth Village Chairman Rob Houston laughs with CEO Nellie Bogar and Director Valerie Bogar during the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for their new building on Anchors Street in Fort Walton Beach.

“A tree is only as good and as strong as its foundation and the roots that spring from it. It needs water. The tree needs sun so it can be nurtured and be strong and grow tall,” Houston said. “So think of the Youth Village as that foundation for our kids, that soil to help them develop and grow tall and strong just like a tree.”

Many donors, staff and others have contributed to the nonprofit to help fill the classrooms with supplies and make the location come together. The building was fully renovated by the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron at Hurlburt Field last year. 

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Destin Charity Wine Auction President John Russell talks about Youth Village's journey Tuesday during a the ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new building.

“No organization can do anything by themselves. It takes a community to do stuff,” Houston said. “We’ve had so many volunteers over the years that have come through and helped in giving their talent. It’s not just about money, but giving their talent as well.” 

The Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation and Impact100 of Northwest Florida donated large sums to the nonprofit to help with the transformation. Donors are recognized with a plaque outside of the building, but Nellie Bogar said there are many more who deserve thanks. 

“Somebody may give us $5 and some may give us $105,000,” Nellie Bogar said. “All of them are very special. We give a hand to everybody, from big to small. Everything helps a lot and we appreciate everybody.” 

John Russel, president of the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, was among those who spoke at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting. Russel congratulated the nonprofit on its 22 years of service and new location, adding that he is excited to see what their “next big dream” is. 

“They had a dream first to just get started. Then once they got started they had a new dream,” Russel said. “Now this is the dream come true. I think you have to appreciate people who dream and actually make it come true. Because those doubts creep into your head.” 

Valerie Bogar said they have a few small things they still want to update at the facility, such as the outdoor playgrounds. They are also collecting donations for a mobile computer lab. But on a larger scale, Valerie Bogar said they one day hope to expand and help families beyond Fort Walton Beach. 

“Everybody always wants to know where we’re going to add another facility. Can you come to Crestview? Can you come to Niceville?” Valerie Bogar said. “So that’s our dream in the future is to have more Youth Village locations.” 

To find out more information about Youth Village or how to donate, visit https://ouryouthvillage.org/