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Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties transforms its operations to continue serving local youth and families

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Children in front of Lee Wetherington Club
Children of local first responders in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties’s First Responder Program. Photo by Cliff Roles.

For 50 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties has worked tirelessly to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for thousands of children and families, especially for those who need high-quality youth programs the most. With incredible support from the community, the organization has navigated times of tragedy to provide safe places for kids and teens. Today, the organization is committed more than ever to continue serving local youth and families from providing meals to those in need, expanding services to support first responders and offering virtual learning and programming to keep kids and teens engaged and on-track academically.

“Our community’s children are currently facing serious challenges that no child should ever have to experience,” said Bill Sadlo, President/CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties. “Challenges that could not only devastate their paths to success, but also the vibrancy of our local economy such as food insecurity, learning loss, skill regression and lack of access to critical resources.”

While the effect of this global pandemic has required the agency to close its doors until further notice, the organization has transformed its operations to continue serving local youth and families.

The organization expanded its longstanding partnership with All Faiths Food Bank to pack and distribute hundreds of bags full of food for Club families for pick up every Wednesday at its Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club in Sarasota and Friday at its Gene Matthews Boys & Girls Club in North Port. Numerous local businesses are also helping the organization feed Club members. For example, The Overton is making hundreds of free boxed lunches for Club members that are being distributed Monday through Friday at the agency’s Roy McBean Boys & Girls Club in Newtown.

The organization also built an online hub at for Club members to access resources that will help keep them engaged in exciting, educational activities and on track to achieve their full potential while Clubs and schools are closed. Examples of virtual engagement activities include livestreams and videos from the agency’s team of dedicated youth development professionals such as exercise classes, book readings, art project demonstrations and guided recipes using ingredients from All Faiths Food Bank’s food supply.

The agency is also actively responding to meet the dire childcare needs of parents and guardians who are at the front line defending the Sarasota community’s health and safety. Through the COVID-19 Response Initiative led by the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the organization launched its First Responder Program on April 8, to serve up to 90 children in conjunction with key health and human services providers. The program runs Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club. Currently, the agency’s First Responder Program is open only to children of essential health care and public safety employees between the ages of 6 and 12 from Sarasota County Fire Department, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, City of Sarasota Essential Workers and Sheriff’s Office of Sarasota County. While the program adheres to all official health guidelines, several area businesses, organizations and individuals have donated goods to help further ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children being served and Boys & Girls Club staff. For example, the Suncoast Science Center/Faulhaber Fab Lab donated 100 face masks to the program through its COVID-19 community project.

Across the county lines in Arcadia, the organization is working alongside the Louis and Gloria Flanzer Philanthropic Trust and implementing the COVID-19 Rapid Response Plan that will significantly impact Arcadian’s needs in Education, Food Insecurity, Health & Safety and Family Sustainability based on a complete assessment of the community’s needs.

The organization will continue to shift its operations as this unprecedented situation evolves.

“When we emerge from this crisis, our Clubs will be here to help rebuild our community and restore a sense of safety and security for kids that has been lost during the pandemic, from facing empty grocery store shelves, missing needed social interactions and enduring school cancellations,” said Sadlo.

With the long-term economic and societal impact of COVID-19 unknown, communities will need Clubs more than ever to help young people to stay on the right path and build essential skills to contribute to the future workforce. To support Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties, click here.

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