For parents around the north Santa Rosa County area, the need for a youth development center in the county has been needed for a long time.

At least that’s what a needs assessment survey showed that parents took part in at local schools in order to get the Boys and Girls Club of East Milton pushed.

On Tuesday, the facility opened its doors officially in front of a crowd of business leaders, government officials and of course, BGC children.

“The community came to us when they realized there was a need,” said Jessica Jarosz, the CEO of the BGC of the Emerald Coast.
“The need is overwhelming here and more families are facing the harsh economic climate.”

BGC of East Milton opened their doors back in August on the first day of school. They were originally scheduled to open early in the summer, but minor delays pushed the opening day back further.

Originally drawn up by a Leadership Santa Rosa class, the facility is currently accommodating students from both East Milton Elementary, and now another school.

“We’re starting to pick up kids at Bagdad Elementary, said Shervin Rassa the vice president of operations at BGC of the Emerald Coast.

This Boys and Girls Club facility is the 280th in the state and the first in Santa Rosa County. All of the BGC sites across the U.S. serve approximately 4 million children. This is the seventh BGC club that the BGC of the Emerald Coast has opened.

Rassa said that the location for the East Milton facility was perfect for the club. Nestled in the heart of East Milton’s youth sports association ball parks, a lot of children who take part in the sports can do so as soon as they get out of the Boys and Girls Club.

“We’ve been working really well with the youth sports association and have even helped volunteer for their Haunted Hayride,” Rassa said.

Right now, the facility serves very few children, but Rassa said that the facility wants to bring more children in, he just doesn’t know when. And in order to do that, he said the facility needs more volunteers.

“We definitely have a need for volunteers right now,” Rassa said. “Volunteers are responsible for working with children during Power
Hour, helping them study and work on projects…just about everything.”

The Boys and Girls Club of East Milton has been working side-by-side with the Santa Rosa County school district and Durham Bus Services to get children to and from the facility. So far, children are being picked up from Bagdad and East Milton Elementary thanks to the partnership.

Lucky Harris, the regional service director with the BGC flew in from Atlanta Tuesday for the ceremony.

“If you look at our strategy, we are growing to serve additional kids who need these services,” Harris said. “Ultimately, it’s the kids that benefit from this.”

Rassa said that the goal of the BGC is to get every child who comes through the program to graduate from high school and to help them go on to do something great with their life.

“We want these kids to graduate from high school and go off to college or go into the military instilled with the knowledge we help give them,” Rassa said.

BGC of the Emerald Coast has served the Gulf area for 45 years. They currently serve over 700 children in the eight clubs they operate across four counties (Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Escambia counties).

Three Goals of Boys and Girls Clubs:
-Academic Success
-Good Character and Citizenship
-Lead Healthy Lifestyles