Editor’s note: This month’s Business Beacon is a spotlight on Youth Village. Opened in 1999, Youth Village is a nonprofit after-school program and summer camp for children in kindergarten through eighth grade, located in Fort Walton Beach. We talked to founder and CEO Nellie Bogar about her passion. Check out Youth Village on Facebook.
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1. How did you get the idea or concept for your business?
NB: My name is Nellie Bogar and I’m the founder/CEO of Youth Village Inc. I’ve always loved being around children and helping them whenever and however I could. I think I was born a mom! In 1999, a juvenile probation officer, Mr. Jimmy James, came to my former church in Niceville to talk to the children about being good citizens and how to stay out of trouble. After his presentation, he asked for volunteers to work with him in his office. I volunteered right away to help out, but soon after, I mentioned to him that what I really wanted to do was to open an after-school program for children in the local area. He said that he thought that it would be a great idea! So, the long process began that lead to my applying for and receiving a Prevention Grant from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. In the beginning, I named it “Youth, Bring a Friend,” but I later changed the name to Youth Village because I do believe it takes a village to raise a child (first, of course, the parents, then churches, schools, extended family, after-school programs, etc.) And, as a matter of fact, Mr. James is still with us as the vice-chair of the Youth Village board of directors and now he’s also a Teen Court judge! Youth Village is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and was formed to create a safe haven to provide various educational and recreational services to children ages 5-16. We provide year-round out-of-school supervision in a safe, nurturing and encouraging environment. Since its inception, Youth Village has served over 3,000 children. Our mission is to provide a safe place, a fun place, a learning place, a place for kids where people care.
2. Let’s discuss numbers: What year did you open? How many locations do you have? How many people do you employ?
NB: We opened our doors in September 1999. We moved from Niceville to a building in Shalimar with several other nonprofits until the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department bought the building and then on we went to Ft. Walton Beach. We are now located in a 5,000-plus-square-foot building at 644 Anchors Street. We currently have one director, one administrative assistant and four teachers, and we’re also searching for at least one additional teacher.
3. What do you sell or what service do you provide? What’s your best seller?
NB: Youth Village is a fully licensed childcare provider with the Florida Department of Children and Families. In addition to our original program of serving children in grades K-8, we can now provide preschool programming for children ages 3-5 in our Youth Village Preschool Academy, which includes a VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten) program. On June 8, Youth Village had our very first VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten) graduation (my granddaughter, Elizabeth, was one of the graduates)! We will now be open from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday year-round. There are many benefits of early education in preschool programs because the most important growth and development in the brain happen by the age of five. Structured early learning fosters these abilities for later success in school and in life and that is our goal. Pre-school prepares children to be ready for Kindergarten because children who participate in high-quality early childhood education programs develop better language skills, score higher in school-readiness tests and have better social skills and fewer behavioral problems once they enter elementary school. As of October 27, 2020, we’re also happy to announce that the School Readiness contract between Youth Village and the Early Learning Coalition of the Emerald Coast has been certified! And, that means that we are now also able to accept School Readiness vouchers! School Readiness Child Care Financial Assistance Vouchers allow eligible families to offset the expense of childcare by paying a reduced parent fee. School Readiness childcare assistance is available to families who are at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Level and are employed at least 20 hours per week or a student taking at least 12 credit hours. This means that a great number of our children’s tuition will be state-funded. We are now more fully equipped to help many more of the underserved children of our community.
4. What’s unique about what you do or offer?
NB: We are unique because we are a family-run business, and we are committed to making the children and their families our priority because the purpose of Youth Village is to provide a safe, fun and educational haven for children to play and learn while in the presence of caring adults in our “village.” We appreciate our children and their families: We want each of our littles and their parents to know that they are welcome and appreciated here. We listen and communicate openly about big issues as well as small ones and we keep all communications transparent, respectful and considerate. We are also mindful and sensitive of everyone’s feelings and treat these feelings with careful attention, respect and patience. The Bogar family wants the best for one another and for others in our extended Youth Village “family” as well … because we’re all in this together! My daughter, Valerie, is the director and also a Youth Village board member and her daughter, Elizabeth, is one of our VPK students!
5. How would you describe your business to a potential customer?
NB: The Youth Village Child Care Center provides a quality childcare atmosphere for preschoolers and elementary school children alike. At our newest addition, the Youth Village Pre School Academy, the curriculum we use is called “Big Day for Pre-K.” This curriculum encompasses all materials that our teachers will need to provide quality, comprehensive education to our students. These materials include lesson plans that integrate social-emotional development, physical development, literacy, science, math and the arts into our classrooms. It also includes many of the materials needed to provide the lessons to the students, such as theme-based literature, virtual learning activities and hands-on manipulatives to help extend the lessons. Big Day for Pre-K also provides materials to allow teachers to communicate with parents easily and effectively. These items will include The Best Children’s Literature and Nonfiction texts: the program surrounds children with a diverse collection of authentic literature and nonfiction: big books, lap books, little books, eBooks, video storybooks, audiobooks, take‐home books, and downloadable books. We have multiple assessment tools that we will use to monitor progress toward the impact on the children and their education. Big Day for Pre-K provides formal and informal assessment tools that will help teachers monitor the children’s progress throughout the year. The formal assessment tool that will be used is a one-on-one “test” that will be administered to each child at the beginning, middle and end of the school year. This tool monitor progress in oral language development, phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge and mathematics as well as social-emotional development. The informal assessment tools include checklists, observation tools and records that teachers can implement throughout the day to help evaluate the children’s knowledge and understanding about a particular area and allow them to adjust their approach as needed. This allows the teachers to differentiate their instruction based on the needs of individual children as well as the classroom as a whole.
6. What do you love most about your line of work?
NB: I love watching the children learn and grow and enjoy new and exciting experiences. A couple of years ago during our summer program, we decided to take the children on a “field trip” for lunch to Olive Garden. I had called the restaurant a few days earlier to ask them to set up a room and special kitchen tour for the students. Early that afternoon on the way to the restaurant, I thought to myself, “what if they hate this as a field trip and might wonder what Miss Nellie was thinking!” Well, I was wrong! Upon arrival, they were overjoyed! Sadly, some of these children had never even been to a restaurant before, just fast-food places. Many people take so much for granted and do not even realize that so many low-income families can not and do not enjoy some of the things that we take for granted. The kids had a great time putting on hats and aprons, touring the kitchen, having lunch in their own room with two of their own waitresses and eating as much pasta as they could hold! This was as much of a joy for me as it was for them. Also, in 2011 I won a contest sponsored by Southwest Airlines. I had to send a photo and write a proposal describing Youth Village and our programs, where we would like to travel and why. I gathered all the children together and we came up with the idea of New York City. I sent in the information and within two weeks we received a response. We had won 40 round-trip tickets to NYC via Southwest Airlines for five days and four nights! Most of the children at that time had not even been out of Okaloosa County. So, in June 2012 after several fundraisers to raise money for hotel costs, food, etc., we were off to the Big Apple! On the airplane ride there, two young brothers (8 and 9) were sitting together across the aisle from me and they were grabbing and hugging each other saying “look, look we’re flying!” They didn’t even realize we weren’t even in the air yet … we were still taxiing down the runway! Hahahaha. This was one of my best trips ever! Growing up and living in New Jersey, I had been to New York countless times to shop, see Broadway shows and dine, but I saw New York this time through the eyes of the children and it was priceless! One of our excursions while there was visiting Ground Zero and going to see a live production of “The Lion King” on Broadway, courtesy of my sister.
7. What sorts of trends are you seeing in your industry?
NB: One trend we are seeing is that childcare centers are now striving to educate the whole child and not just academics, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, etc., but also taking into account the mental, emotional and social factors of each child. Education also includes improving social skills and social behavior, establishing moral responsibility, increasing student community service, helping students develop lifelong goals and ambitions, help with increasing their conflict resolution skills, help with demonstrating respect for others and their cultures, and many other life skills that our children need to help them grow into responsible, self-sufficient adults. Youth Village’s goal is to help the children improve his or her life-management skills.
8. Tell me in just a sentence or two what you feel sets you apart from your competitors.
NB: We are a local, grassroots family-run organization that believes in helping to support the entire family and not just the child. We passionately believe that it takes a village to raise a child … beginning with the parents to the teachers to the churches to the community organizations … we’re all in this together!
9. Who or what inspires you? This could be a family member or celebrity, a particular quote or even a book/movie/podcast. This sky’s the limit!
NB: A man that I knew a long time ago told me that I’m a “servant-leader.” I said, “what?” and he answered that a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. This inspired me a lot! My own personal slogan is, “When I leave this place, I want to leave this place a better place than when I came to this place.”
10. What’s the best thing about being a part of the Emerald Coast, personally and/or professionally?
NB: I was born and raised in the hustle and bustle of Newark, New Jersey, but I’ve lived here on the Emerald Coast for almost 30 years, so this is definitely home to me. I love the slower pace, the beaches, the seafood, wearing jeans (I never wore jeans until I moved here), and the friendly people.
11. Are you/your business involved in the community in any way? Volunteering or giving back? If so, how?
NB: Youth Village is a member of the Destin Chamber of Commerce and the Ft. Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. I am a proud third-year member of Impact 100 Northwest Florida. Impact100 Northwest Florida is a group of women who seeks to transform the lives of people in Okaloosa and Walton Counties by funding transformational, high-impact projects through grants to nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations in those counties. The exact amount of funds available for award in any given year depends upon the number of women who join the organization. Annual membership in Impact100 of Northwest Florida is $1,000: One woman + $1,000 = one vote. One hundred women donating $1,000 each make it possible to award $100,000 to a worthy project of a local nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Thus, the name Impact100. Members may be as active as they choose: serving on a grant review committee or one of our standing committees, helping to promote the organization or just coming to vote at the annual meeting. The membership deadline for each year is May 1. I am also a member of 100+ Women Who Care Emerald Coast. We meet for one hour, four times a year, and give away approximately $9,000+ in that hour to an Okaloosa, Santa Rosa or Walton County charity. Every member can nominate a local charity. Three names are drawn at random at each meeting. A 100+ Women Who Care Emerald Coast member makes a five-minute presentation about their cause followed by a five-minute Q&A. We all vote on which cause to support. Many of the women do not attend the meeting but send in their checks in advance. The top vote-getting charity then receives all the checks, made out to them! I am also a board member of the Okaloosa Arts Alliance. The Okaloosa Arts Alliance (OAA) is the official local arts agency for Okaloosa County. The purpose of OAA is to support and promote art, music, and culture in Okaloosa County. The Okaloosa Arts Alliance enhances the cultural environment of its community, and promotes, coordinates, and nurtures high-quality arts and cultural resources that enrich the lives of residents and visitors. The OAA is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture and from Arts auto license tag revenues but could not exist without its members and community support. I am a member and an Ordained Deacon at Striving for Perfection Ministries in Ft. Walton Beach. Youth Village is a grateful recipient charity of the Destin Chamber Wine Auction Foundation for 12 straight years. Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation’s mission is to connect wine enthusiasts to raise money to benefit children in need in Northwest Florida. Founded in 2005, Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation has donated more than $21 Million to Northwest Florida charities through hosting world-class wine and culinary events. These funds have impacted the lives of over 100,000 youth, including those afflicted by health issues and abuse. DCWAF is recognized as one of the nation’s ‘Top 10 Charity Wine Auctions in the U.S.’ by Wine Spectator Magazine for the last seven consecutive years. And finally…when we purchased our new place at 644 Anchors Street NW in March a couple of days before quarantine, we knew that there was a LOT of renovating and remodeling to be done. And, to the rescue came the Red Horse Squadron of Hurlburt Field under the guidance of Joseph P. Greene, MSgt, USAF, Operations Superintendent/DOO, 823rd RED HORSE Squadron! Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer (RED HORSE) squadrons are the United States Air Force’s heavy-construction units. Their combat engineering capabilities are similar to those of the U.S. Navy Seabees and U.S. Army heavy-construction organizations. We thank them for their assistance during this time of COVID-19, social unrest and our own under-taking of a building that we purchased before right before COVID-19 hit us full-force. Our building needed a lot of tender loving care and the Red Horse Squadron of Hurlburt Field was right there to jump right in and help us remodel and renovate our place for the children. We literally would not have been able to do this without them! Large groups of them came on board in June and pitched right in until late September! Their willingness and dedication to show up and take the helm by installing all new flooring and all new ceiling tiles, installing kitchen cabinets and counters, upgrading our playground equipment, replacing fencing all around the building, painting the entire interior, upgrading plumbing, painting all the outside doors as well as our big roof pyramid, picking up and setting up our new shed and so much more! They did an awesome job and all at no cost. We only had to pay for supplies, which was a LOT, but it was more than worth it! We sincerely thank them for their service to our country as well as to us!
12. What does a typical day in your business look like? (Pretend it’s Monday (or Friday!) and take me through the highlights of your day.)
NB: Now that our VPK Program has begun, I am at Youth Village from 8:30 a.m. to approx. 5-6:00 p.m. Monday – Friday … taking time off, if necessary, for meetings, presentations, etc. My day consists of spending time with the littles, fundraising and undertaking LOADS of paperwork.
13. What’s your best “insider tip?” (This could be a community tip for vacationers or homeowners or even a tip for customers related to your business.)
NB: My best “insider tip” for anyone is to take some “me time” to relax, read a “fun” book not related to your business, spend some quality stressless time with the family, watch some television (I’m a tennis junkie) have a glass of wine or eat a big piece of chocolate cake and just “be!”
14. Just the deets, please! Where are you located? Business hours? Social media profiles and/or website links we need to know about?
NB: Youth Village is located at 644 Anchors Street NW in Ft. Walton Beach. We are open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. year-round. Our phone number is: (850) 374-8200. Visit us on the web or on Facebook. An open house celebrating Youth Village’s 22nd anniversary and joint ribbon cutting with the Destin and Ft. Walton Beach Chambers of Commerce is scheduled for Tuesday, September 14.
15. One final question: If there was just one thing you wish the public knew about your business, what would it be?
NB: We care … about the children, their families and our community!