Boys & Girls Clubs Come to the Rescue of First Responders

Green Building

Always on the frontline of communities in need, nonprofits are now struggling more than ever to provide for those who depend on them, with competition for donation dollars fierce in the COVID-19 environment. Even so, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, a grantee of Southface’s GoodUse program, quickly saw the need and partnered with other organizations to help first responders and their families by providing urgently needed childcare in the wake of school and daycare closures. Southface Institute talked with Sara Bealor, Director of Communications for Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, Florida, to get the details.

Children at the Lee Wetherington unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County are able to receive services from the otherwise closed location as part of an initiative to provide daycare for the children of first responders.

Q: How and why did the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County start this program?

A: Our new First Responder Program is the result of a community effort by a dozen public and nonprofit partners to serve children of essential healthcare workers and first responders in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. So far, more than 575 spots have been made available for infants, toddlers and school-aged children at sites across Sarasota County. Spearheaded by the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and Sarasota Memorial Health Care System (SMH), these organizations identified the need for childcare when a survey of hospital employees reported that more than 1,400 children needed somewhere to go while school campuses and other private daycare facilities are closed due to the pandemic.

A task force was created to identify opportunities to open safe and regulated childcare facilities. Included in the conversations in addition to our organization were the Florida Department of Health, Sarasota County Emergency Management, Sarasota County Schools, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, SKY Family YMCA, Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County, Florida Center for Early Childhood, and other critical partners. All facilities comply with appropriate guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state licensing agencies. Essential healthcare and public safety employees can contact any of the organizations directly to find availability. More spaces and organizations are being identified to expand capacity.

Q: How many children do you expect to serve?

A: We launched our 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, located at 3100 Fruitville Road in Sarasota. Currently, our 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, Sheriff’s Office of Sarasota County and Doctors Hospital of Sarasota. Currently, 50 children are being served, but we anticipate we’ll meet our max capacity of 90 children in the coming weeks.

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 Clubs staff. For example, the Suncoast Science Center/Faulhaber Fab Lab donated 100 face masks to the program through its COVID-19 community project.

Q: How have the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County been affected by COVID-19? How are your services more needed than ever?

A: For 50 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County 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, we are committed more than ever to continue serving local youth and families. While the effect of this global pandemic has required us to close our physical Club locations, we have transformed our operations 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.

Jennifer “Lacy” Mitchell of the Sheriff’s Office of Sarasota County and her daughter Callie at the Lee Wetherington unit of the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota with masks on to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Jennifer “Lacy” Mitchell of the Sheriff’s Office of Sarasota County and her daughter Callie at the Lee Wetherington unit of the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County, which has partnered with other local organizations to provide childcare for first responders in the wake of COVID-19 closures of schools and daycare facilities.
Credit: Harry Sayer, The Observer

Q: How do you see impacts of the coronavirus affecting Boys & Girls Clubs over time?

A: 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. 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.

Q: How will your work with GoodUse help you provide more support for your community?

A: We deeply value our partnership with GoodUse. Because of GoodUse, we’re able to lower our operating costs, and invest in programmatic initiatives designed to empower children and teens to realize their full potential. GoodUse ensures we’re able to continue providing the highest quality of youth development programs to our community’s future leaders.

Q: Can you tell us more about the Club and the services it provides?

A: Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County has been a leading youth-serving organization in Sarasota County and its surrounding area since 1970 and provides enriching after-school and summer programs to more than 5,100 youth, ages 6 to 18, in Sarasota, Venice, North Port and Arcadia. The organization’s mission is to enable all young people, especially those who need services the most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. The programs are designed to empower youth to excel in school, become leaders, adopt healthy habits and create plans for success after high school graduation. For more information, visit or call 941-366-3911.

Help Southface support nonprofits like The Boys & Girls Clubs through our GoodUse program. Your donation helps organizations like this one extend their mission by saving money on utility costs.

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