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Years in the making, the new Boys & Girls Clubs branch in Oviedo is now open

After years of planning and perseverance on the part of local leaders, and unanticipated delays brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Oviedo’s Boys & Girls Clubs branch officially opened its doors in February.
The once-vacant building on Broadway Street owned by the Antioch Baptist Missionary Church of Oviedo is now abuzz  with laughter, fun, and support.

“It’s very exciting,” says Oviedo City Councilman Jeff  Chudnow, who was instrumental in bringing this community center to fruition, and he now chairs the Seminole County Board of the Boys & Girls Clubs.

The idea to bring a Boys & Girls Clubs branch to Oviedo began when Jeff was serving as the city’s Chief of Police. Knowing there was a need for such a facility and that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America had an interest in opening a branch in the Celery City, he fought to make it a reality.

“People don’t tend to talk about Oviedo besides the growth associated with the University of Central Florida and Siemens,” says Jeff, whose 43 years of law enforcement service convinced him that nurturing Oviedo’s youth was paramount to the city’s future. “People would say, ‘We have all A-plus schools.’ Well, we have struggling kids at those A-plus schools, kids who need tutoring and mentoring. There was always a need, and now that has become understood.”

By the summer of 2019, a deal reached between Alicia Hodge, senior development officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, and the church put the idea for an Oviedo branch on a fast track. With community support, the church’s building would undergo renovations (like brand-new cabinetry provided at-cost by Stevens Kitchens in Oviedo) to serve the community’s youth, and the church would lease the facility to the Boys & Girls Clubs. In addition, the organization was given access to the church as its temporary center until renovations were finally completed this year.

With the opening of the Boys & Girls Clubs branch in Oviedo, there are now three such facilities in Seminole County, the others being East Altamonte and West Sanford. Oviedo joins the 4,300 Boys & Girls Clubs branches nationwide serving close to 4 million children ages 6-18, offering a safe place to have fun, learn, and make friends – whether that’s after school, on holidays, or throughout the summer.

Grand Opening

The new 2,400-square-foot branch on Broadway Street – which measures 11,000 square feet including its outdoor space – is able to accommodate up to 60 kids. For now, however, the branch will only be able to serve half of that amount per CDC guidelines. Alicia says those kids will be divided into two sets, those fifth-grade and under and those in grade six and up.
“It will fill up quickly,” she says.

Inside, the center includes a career and resources room equipped with computers and laptops for teens, a computer room for youngsters, a warming kitchen to serve up the Boys & Girls Clubs Healthy Lifestyles program, game rooms, and a lounge area.

While the branch’s aim is to provide a ratio of one adult per 20 kids, Alicia hopes that she can recruit enough volunteers to serve the kids on a one-on-one basis, like a buddy system. The new branch employs one full-time and two part-time paid staff members and is open from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. on school days. On days when school is not in session, the hours will be 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

“After the pandemic, and depending on our teen enrollment, we may extend the hours to 8:00 p.m. on school days, which is what we do for teens at our other Seminole County locations,” Alicia explains.

There is an online registration process to be part of the new Oviedo branch, including a nominal sign-up fee that acts as a sense of ownership (the fee can be waived, though, if needed). As in other Boys & Girls Clubs branches, many of the children are referred by churches and other organizations.

According to Alicia, a capital campaign designed to raise money for the branch’s renovations and to support three years of operations did fall short due to the pandemic. The campaign raised just enough to build out the facility and keep the doors open for one year. The cost of operating the branch is $150,000 annually.

“Fundraising is still ongoing,” says Alicia. “We are asking for more support for sustainability.”

Jeff says a successful fundraiser in mid-January at Rock & Brews in Oviedo did help the cause. The evening fundraiser brought in needed cash, and the restaurant donated 15 percent of its proceeds that day.

“We are always in need of more funding to defray costs,” Jeff adds.

More help will come from the branch’s Founders Club, formed with the goal of attracting 100 members to pledge $1,000 a year for five years. Alicia says they have already filled 25 of the 100 available slots. A plaque will hang in the new branch honoring each founding member.

And while the management of Oviedo’s Boys & Girls Clubs branch falls under the umbrella of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida and the Seminole County Board, the Oviedo branch did form a steering committee that is open to any interested resident who wants to shape the future of the branch.

“We welcome people to participate,” says Alicia. “Just send me a message.”

To volunteer or learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs Oviedo branch, email Alicia Hodge at AHodge@BGCCF.org.

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