FORT WALTON BEACH — Since 1999, Youth Village has been an after-school safe haven for children 5 to 16.
From homework help to stage productions, the nonprofit has expanded its programs and number of children served — but the building it occupies has not.
“We have totally outgrown our building,” said Nellie Bogar, founder and executive director of Youth Village. “We currently have over 50 children on a waiting list.”
Bogar said she intends for Youth Village to keep growing and she wants to have the facilities to keep up. One of the most urgent needs is to have a secure building inside and out, she said. The current building is about 50 years old and needs many improvements.
“We have a lot to offer, we just need the space,” Bogar said.
The future of Youth Village
Youth Village plans to increase after-school program enrollment and summer camp program enrollment by 100 percent. There are currently 45 students in the after-school program and 61 students in the summer camp. Youth Village also is planning to incorporate a state-funded voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) program and partnering with Child Care Services of Okaloosa County as well as the Okaloosa County School District’s Title X Program, which is designated to help children who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.
“We’ll always stay in Fort Walton Beach, it’s central to schools we serve,” Bogar said. “I want children to come here and feel like they’re at home with us. This is home to many of those children.”
The arts are an important aspect to Youth Village. From the concert tickets provided by Demetrius Fuller of Sinfonia Gulf Coast to performing “The Lion King Jr.,” Youth Village is hoping to fill in the cultural gaps for children. Most children served at Youth Village come from low-income or single-parent homes.
“We recently performed ‘The Lion King Jr.’ for 200 people at Striving for Perfection ministries,” Bogar said. “Children had to learn four different African languages. The children were thrilled to death to be a part of it. We’re trying to break that chain of poverty and show these kids other things they can do.”
In the new facility, Bogar wants to add a performing arts program complete with space for children to perform for the public. The space could also be used for free family fitness classes and free parenting classes and resource center thanks to a partnership with a Family Advocacy Specialist from Hurlburt Field.
As the cliché goes, it takes a village to raise a child. That’s where the name for Youth Village came from. But in this community, it is true. There’s no lack of support. Striving for Perfection Ministries and Pastor Larry Boldin are credited for housing Youth Village for the past 12 years in their old church building on Pelham Road.
“We had no place to go with our program and they took us in,” Bogar said. “Pastor Boldin is awesome.”
The Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation has donated over $600,000 to Youth Village over the past eight years, helping to fund the programs and scholarships for families who cannot afford after-school care. Youth Village was recently chosen again as a DCWAF charity for the ninth year in a row. Other organizations include Children’s Volunteer Health Network, which has provided free dental checkups and Shelter House, which partners with Youth Village to do weekly programs about anti-bullying and self-respect. Elk’s Lodge No. 1795 also has been a big supporter, donating everything from clothes to school supplies. This past week, they chartered a bus to take kids on a field trip to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.
Every now and then, children who have been in the Youth Village program come back to visit or volunteer, which is the greatest reward, Bogar said.
“I love it,” she added. “I just got a wedding invitation from one of my kids … it feels great.”
Keeping kids safe
Bogar has had a long and extensive career serving children. She’s served on boards for nonprofits such as Children in Crisis and Okaloosa County Juvenile Justice Council. She is currently serving on boards such as Okaloosa Arts Alliance and Emerald Coast Jr. Tennis Council.
“There’s not too much to do,” Bogar said. “We want to keep them safe.”
Bogar said she had always dreamed she would be surrounded by kids. She does have one daughter, Valerie, who is the program director at Youth Village. But she considers all of the kids she serves to be hers.
“God’s plan was better than mine,” she said.