Be a kid for a day

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JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

FORT WALTON BEACH — Adults got a taste of childhood Friday when Youth Village hosted Come be a Kid With Us.

The event was held at Youth Village on Pelham Road to announce plans for the nonprofit after-school program that include a new state-of-the-art facility.

It wasn’t a typical nonprofit event because vistors were treated like Youth Village children. There were juice boxes instead of cocktails. The live entertainment involved a series of learning stations, including building blocks and readings by “adults.”

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Valerie Bogar, the program and performing arts director, said she wanted guests to get a feel for Youth Village’s curriculum.

“We’re more than just a daycare,” she said.

Since 1999, Youth Village has served the community with a safe and educational environment for kids to go to after school. The program started in a 900-square-foot space in Shalimar before Striving for Perfection Ministries gave Youth Village the use of their old church on Pelham Road in 2004. But the program has since outgrown the building.

By next summer, Youth Village hopes to be open in its new facility on Shady Lane in Fort Walton Beach. The space will have at least 6,000 square-feet (double its current space) and will include a computer lab, larger classrooms and a performance stage. The extra space will allow for a K3 and state-funded VPK program for 4-year-olds, which will be offered at no charge.

“Our purpose is to fill in that gap that children need,” Bogar said. “I grew up in the program and it taught me how to be involved with the community. It’s a place for kids to hang out and be included.”

Friday’s event was not a fundraiser. There is a $750,000 campaign to raise money for the new building, but with in-kind donations the total will go down, said Nellie Bogar, founder and executive director of Youth Village.

Youth Village is seeking donations of time, money or talents.

“Contact us,” Valerie Bogar said. “Everyone has gifts or talents that can help us.”

Keisha Thomas is the mother of one of the Youth Village graduates. Her son currently is in the pre-law program at Fisk University in Nashville.

“It all started here,” Thomas said. “We had just moved to the community when my son entered Youth Village. We didn’t have any family around.”

After learning more about the program, Thomas became a regular volunteer before joining the board of directors this year. What she’s most impressed with is the Youth Village’s arts program. Kids are given a taste of culture by attending Sinfonia Gulf Coast performances to improv classes with Emerald Coast Theatre Company. Youth Village students put on a production of “Lion King Jr.” last year for 200 people.

“The kids start out kind of shy, but then Valerie has them singing and dancing,” she said. “It brings out their self-esteem.”

Valerie Bogar said it is a “dream come true” to work to get a bigger and better building. She’s also excited that the space will help broaden the progam’s reach.

“We sometimes see kids at 5 or 6 years of age who don’t know their shapes or colors,” she said. “We want to start working with kids at a younger age and help parents to work with them.”

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