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Education Matters | Pioneering Youth Development: Roscelyn Guenther and Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties

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The following appeared in Scene Magazine's February 2024 Issue.

By Joshua Thomas Bray | February 2024

Creating opportunities for youth development, growth, and learning, the dedication to shaping young lives is a vital mission in any community. Founded in 1970, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties (BGCSDC) has been steadfast in its commitment to empowering and supporting youth in need. 

The organization focuses on children and teenagers (ages 6-18) offering them a safe space for growth and learning outside of school hours. With a vision that success is within the reach of every young person who enters its doors, the Clubs have been a significant force in the community for over five decades.

In the decades since its inception, BGCSDC has evolved, mirroring the changing dynamics of youth education and development. This evolution has been significantly influenced by the insights and expertise of Roscelyn Guenther, who joined BGCSDC in 2000. 

Bringing a unique blend of personal experience and professional acumen to the role of Director of Program Services, Guenther has been a tangible force in tailoring the Club’s initiatives to the ever-changing needs of its young members. Her approach, deeply rooted in understanding and responding to the diverse challenges faced by the youth of today, has led to the creation of programs that are as varied as they are impactful. From academic enrichment to leadership training, the breadth of these programs under the organization’s mission reflects a deep commitment to holistic development and the belief that every young person holds the potential to thrive. 

“For me it was personal. I came from a single-parent home and it was very important to have strong adult relationships for encouragement and support. I realized I needed to be that person for others,” says Guenther.

A key component of BGCSDC’s success is its comprehensive educational programs. These programs are designed to cater to the diverse needs of its members, ranging from academic support to leadership development. A standout initiative is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which provide academic, artistic, and cultural enrichment outside of regular school hours. 

These centers not only focus on intellectual growth by offering activities in areas such as drug and violence prevention, counseling, art, music, and technology, but they also promote physical well-being by providing healthy snacks in an environment conducive to learning. Importantly, the program extends its reach to the families of participating students, addressing literacy needs and ensuring that students, especially those from low-performing schools, meet state academic standards in core subjects like reading and mathematics.

According to Guenther, “It’s not one specific niche that changes their life. It’s relationships with the adults they have around them and the combination of the different programs with academics, good character and citizenship and healthy lifestyles that wrap around to give them what they need to be successful.”

The 2023-2024 school-year program includes a comprehensive array of teen programs for youth aged 13-18. These award-winning programs encompass crucial areas such as entrepreneurial training, leadership development, financial literacy, civic engagement, planning for college, and workforce development. Additionally, programs focusing on leadership development, advocacy and action, entrepreneurial education, and vocational training are offered, ensuring that every teen graduates from high school with a full resume and a well-defined plan for the future. With locations across Sarasota and DeSoto Counties, the Clubs are staffed by dedicated youth development professionals who are committed to guiding teens on their journey to success.

Under the leadership of a strong management team, the Clubs have flourished, consistently offering high-quality programs that positively impact the lives of young people. As she enters her 24th year of service to the organization, Guenther’s role involves overseeing program execution, leading community collaborations, and special projects. Her involvement has been significant in enhancing the scope and impact of the programs. BGCSDC places a strong emphasis on community involvement and partnerships. These collaborations are vital in enhancing the Club’s offerings and extending its impact. Through community support and partnerships, the Clubs have been able to expand its reach and offer a wider range of programs and services.

In 2022, Guenther’s commitment to leadership was recognized as she was selected for the Leadership Sarasota Class by the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. This accolade reflects her effectiveness and dedication to driving positive change within the community and at the Boys & Girls Clubs.

“I get the opportunity to oversee the educational impact we make with all of the tools and resources provided through academic grants. All those components are compiled in a logical set of processes that can go out to the Clubs where they execute those activities and lessons, and meet the needs of our families and our youth. We compile the data and report trends and successes. It’s always a win! The biggest gift for me is to have done this long enough to see our former Club members grow into adults and lead successful lives,” shares Guenther.

As BGCSDC looks ahead, the organization is committed to evolving with the changing needs of today’s youth, ensuring that each member is empowered to reach their full potential. With a focus on preparing members for various aspects of life, the Clubs remain active in the community, ready to provide and continue supporting the leaders of tomorrow.

Guenther’s efforts at BGCSDC exemplify the organization’s commitment to our youth, and with its dedicated leadership team, the Clubs continue to make a significant impact on the lives of children and teenagers in Sarasota and DeSoto Counties. Its role in youth development remains as vital as ever, helping shape young minds of today for a prosperous and thriving tomorrow. The Clubs are a place where potential is nurtured, challenges are transformed into opportunities, and dreams are given the wings of reality.

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