PASS CHRISTIAN — Excited young faces here were beamed across the nation Thursday as “Good Morning America” broadcast the grand opening of a gleaming new $5.5 million Boys & Girls Club.
Host Robin Roberts returned to her hometown of Pass Christian with cameras, microphones and assorted broadcast paraphernalia. As dawn broke around the small harbor town, she interviewed Gov. Haley Barbour, flanked by many of the 150 youngsters the Pass Christian club serves each day.
Entertainment included a dance team and drummers from the Boys & Girls Club of Biloxi.
The 28,000-square-foot facility, located at the corner of Church Avenue and Second Street, stands shoulder to shoulder with a new, K-8 school. The futuristic club building was built with a grant from the Middle Eastern country of Qatar.
“It’s a perfect setup for us,” said Sam Burke, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast.
The ribbon cutting and opening ceremonies were attended by an estimated 450 people. Many more came throughout the day to take tours of the new building. The club includes kitchen facilities, a gymnasium, offices, classrooms and activity spaces.
“We had this terrific grant that allowed us to do it first class,” said Anthony Topazi, CEO of Mississippi Power and a leader of the Boys & Girls Clubs capital campaign.
Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on Boys & Girls Clubs across the Coast in 2005. The former Pass Christian Club was destroyed, and has since been headquartered at DeLisle Elementary School until the new building was completed.
Although Qatar provided funds for the Pass Christian facility, the clubs have been raising money for clubs in Gulfport, D’Iberville and Bay St. Louis. The clubs have just received a $350,000 gift from Hancock Bank and the Leo Seal family.
About $13.2 million of a $15 million goal has been raised, Topazi said.
The money will be used to build the new clubs in Gulfport and D’Iberville, and to renovate the old Valena C. Jones School for the Bay St. Louis club.
“At this point, we can go and start construction on the other facilities. Those are in the bid award process now,” Topazi said.
Burke said the club will be open all day on weekdays, and students from the Pass Christian public schools will be using the gymnasium. “It’s a shared-space environment, which is very unusual for a Boys & Girls Club,” he said.
Following her broadcast, Roberts said moving a live television show to Mississippi is a task, but well worth it.
“It’s not easy. It takes a village,” she said.
“But I have to say, every time I’ve asked ‘Good Morning America’ to come to Mississippi, it has happened.”
How many times has that occurred?
“I’ve lost count,” she said.
--Sun Herald, May 7, 2009