Boys & Girls Club a "Beacon of Hope"
The Clair-Mel/Palm River area finally has its Boys & Girls Club.
The 10,000-square-foot building opened Aug. 21. The much anticipated Jeff & Penny Vinik Family Club, built in partnership with Hillsborough County, can accommodate up to 200 children and teens, ages 5 through 18, in a brand new structure that has a multipurpose room, teen center, "innovation" room, and studios for music and dance.
Outdoors, there's a covered street hockey rink. The County plans to build a splash pad, and install solar panels to power the building.
Jeff and Penny Vinik donated $2.5 million to build the Boys & Girls Club, and stuck with the project after a fire in 2016 destroyed an initial attempt to erect the building. Jeff Vinik owns the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and is creating Water Street Tampa, a 50-acre mixed-use development in downtown Tampa. He and his wife have many other business and philanthropic interests in Hillsborough County and elsewhere.
Members of the new club - smiling children in bright-yellow Boys & Girls Club T-shirts - provided a noisy, enthusiastic backdrop for the opening celebration at Hillsborough County's Winston Park.
"It's nice," said Nayalia, 7, as she played a board game, surrounded by friends in the multipurpose room. "The teachers here, they let me play and have a snack and stuff."
Chris Letsos, the club's CEO and president, praised those involved in the club's creation, especially the Viniks. He spoke of the club's partnership with Hillsborough County Schools and Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies, and contributions of land and amenities by Hillsborough County's Board of County Commissioners. "Without their support, without their vision, these types of partnerships would not be possible," he said.
Letsos called the club at 7605 Destin Drive a "beacon of hope" in an area of eastern Hillsborough County struggling with academic progression, poverty, and juvenile crime. It's close to Clair-Mel Elementary and Dowdell Middle schools. The students' daily transition from campus to the club is expected to be seamless.
The goal is to provide kindergarteners through 12th graders with additional learning time, and an array of other services, programs, and activities. The Sheriff's Office will station a deputy at the club to provide a mentor and nurturing presence.
"We just want to make a difference and help people's lives as much as we can," Jeff Vinik told dedication attendees. "This new Boys & Girls Club is a manifestation of that."