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Gene Matthews Boys & Girls Club will get new $4.5 million, 14,000-square-foot building.

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As seen in article by Earle Kimel in Sarasota Herald Tribune on April 13, 2023

Gene Matthews receives key to the city on the same day plans for a new facility at the Gene Matthews Boys & Girls Club are announced.

NORTH PORT – For 28 years, North Port children and teenagers have been gathering with friends out-of-school time or doing schoolwork at the city's Boys & Girls Club.

But last Sept. 28, Hurricane Ian damaged two of the three buildings at a former church site that has served as the site for the Gene Matthews Boys & Girls Club, leaving the nonprofit to operate out of its only remaining safe structure, the gym.

Bill Sadlo, president & CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties, unveiled plans to replace those damaged structures with a new 14,000-square-foot, $4.5 million club just minutes after the North Port City Commission honored Matthews with both a key to the and a proclamation that April 11, 2023 was Gene Matthews Day.

Matthews, 87, moved to North Port in 1972 and served both on the Sarasota County School Board and the Sarasota County Commission.

Sadlo noted that Matthews still visited the club and told a story about how one young member asked Matthews his name and upon hearing the response, said “That is so cool, you’re named after our Boys & Girls Club!”

Matthews later recounted that the child later approached with two balsa wood gliders and gave him one as a thanks for building the club.

Sadlo said that a task force was assembled to start fundraising for a new club on the campus at 6851 South Biscayne Drive prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the activity to a halt.

The new drive was jump-started by a $1 million gift by board member Steve Townsend. While the club will be known as the Gene Matthews Boys & Girls Club, the campus will be named for Steve and Marjolaine Townsend.

The club name was changed to honor Matthews in 2003.

Another board member, CoolToday president Jaime DiDomenico, donated $500,000 and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation pledged $1 million to the cause.

Those contributions, together with some others, mean that $2.8 million has been raised for the new building. Board member Tom Shapiro is spearheading the fundraising campaign.

Jack Cox, president of Halfacre Construction Company pledged that the company would build the new campus at cost.

Sadlo said that the new facility will include a 2,500-square-foot teen center, classrooms, game rooms and a first-class commercial kitchen which can be used for youth classes and by the community.

The club partners with All Faiths Food Bank as a food distribution site.

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Several city commissioners were quite familiar with the history of the 28-year-old club, which started at the Scout House at Dallas White Park and later moved to the former campus of the South Biscayne Baptist Church, which evolved into the Gene Matthews Boys & Girls Club.

Vice Mayor Alice White recalled planting trees on the campus with her nonprofit People for Trees.

City Commissioner Pete Emrich talked about how both his children and now his grandchildren have attended programs there.

“The Boys & Girls Club has been a staple,” he said, then added. “Gene, we love you, thank you so very much.”

Commissioner Phil Stokes, who moved to North Port seven years ago, quickly recognized the impact of both Matthews and the club that bears his name. “That’s what makes North Port a special place: its people,” he said.

Mayor Barbara Langdon went one step further.

“I hope as our city grows that we continue to develop more Gene Matthewses,” she said. “Because that’s really the spirit.”

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