Project SOS, now a Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida program, surpassed its $200,000 fundraising goal at the New Orleans-themed Grand Anchor Gala held at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club on Saturday, Feb. 24.
The annual fundraiser celebrated 25 years of serving First Coast teens and raised money for Project SOS programs and new Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida facilities designed to assist the community. The two organizations merged in the summer of 2017.
Following an invocation from Pastor Marc Dickerson of Abundant Life Church and an introductory speech by Project SOS founder Pam Mullarkey Robbins, guests enjoyed a three-course meal, a live and silent auction, dancing, speeches and more.
The live auction, sponsored by The American Fundraising Foundation, featured a 4-month-old puppy, an African photo safari, a cruise from Venice to the Greek Islands and other high-priced ticket items.
After the live auction, Robbins returned to the stage to deliver a speech on the importance of protecting and investing in youth.
“Every year we have a reduction in teen suicides and that's extremely important to all of us because these are 100 percent of our future," Robbins said. “In 1993, [the drug culture] was pot, maybe cocaine and a lot of alcohol. Well, guess what? It has escalated to an unbelievable epidemic of prescription drugs, cocaine, heroin.”
Robbins said charitable organizations such as Project SOS are fighting to keep young people away from drugs by helping them deal with stress, anxiety and temptation.
Later, Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida President and CEO Paul Martinez spoke about ending the cycle of teen violence and gang-related activity through prevention rather than new law enforcement programs.
“Everyone is content until that cycle starts all over again,” he said. “That's called law enforcement, and we need it, but we also need prevention. That's where we come in. I say we change that cycle; our kids are fighting in the streets and they need our help.”
Martinez said the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida plans on opening four to six state-of-the-art teen centers in the toughest parts of Northeast Florida to help alleviate the problem.
The event ended with entertainment from the Chris Thomas Band and the Monarch Dancers, followed by closing remarks from Ben Weurffel, Project SOS’ chairman of the board of directors.